What is the point of planning and productivity?
On this week’s episode of Deep Questions, Cal Newport discussed the common critiques of “Productivity Bros” and makes (I thought) very solid arguments as to why attacking the concept of productivity / organization is misplaced. It was a great episode, and I might actually listen to it again. Also, I got to thinking about where I fit in the productivity landscape. Am I a Productivity
Bro Sis? Am I leading people down a joyless path towards burnout?
I hope not, and also I really don’t think so.
I do think sometime people see all of the goal setting and planning that I recommend and think: oh my god, who wants to try to pack in so much? or how can you enjoy life when it’s so structured? or even what’s the point, I know I have too much to do and will feel overwhelmed anyway or I don’t have time to plan.
To me, planning / organizing / goal-setting (which I could also refer to as “dreaming” btw – doesn’t have to be so left-brained and hard-edged) — is about having things structured ENOUGH so that you can do the things you want to do.
And for most of us, fun and relaxation are included in those things.
I don’t think people should spend time planning in order to do more things, or to ‘optimize’ productivity. Optimization of productivity is probably bad in the long run anyway because lack of rest / sleep / down time / connection time / fun is likely to lead to burnout fairly rapidly, anyway.
I think people should spend time planning because if you have a clear understanding of your calendar, routines that prevent predictable things from becoming emergencies, practices for addressing the inputs that inevitably come at you 24/7 and rituals that ensure you spend time thinking about what you actually want out of life — you can enjoy it more.
You can go meet up with a friend without being distracted by thoughts of whether you did enough work for the day, because you planned it out and created a realistic list of tasks given the hours available.
You can truly enjoy rest days from workouts without guilt because they are there by design and intention, not because you didn’t feel like getting up that day. (If this one is just me . . . carry on!)
You can steer your career (perhaps gradually, but still!) in different directions depending on what brings you the most joy and satisfaction — and can give attention to things that frustrate so you can figure out how to improve them (if there are aspects that can change).
Anyway, I thought it was a good episode and I wanted to stand on my soapbox with him and defend planning and organizing tactics.
(ALSO, it occurred to me that planning shifts the balance from push (reaction) to pull (proaction) and in many cases can promote a feeling of autonomy. You are not forced to do XYZ because it was due yesterday and now people are mad; you have chosen XYZ as things you have decided are priorities today. It may be the same work, but it feels different. This could probably be a whole post/BLP ep so . . . more on that to come).
PS: I know, the ads have gone crazy on this site!!!! I honestly don’t know what happened. I’ve been with She Knows Media/BlogHer for ~10 yrs and didn’t tell them to change anything but all the sudden they seem to have doubled. I’m looking into it and hope to go back to the prior norm!
I’ll admit I had to step away from your blog recently because I was dealing with my mom’s hospice, then death, then funeral and burial, then post-funeral and burial. I couldn’t bear thinking about productivity or planning or being proactive because every bit of proactivity ended up wasted. Things changed and moved too fast. So I think, like everything, there are times and seasons. I now have renewed intention around planning because of the harsh reminder of how short life is. I think you just have to know that there are times when everything goes out the window, and that’s ok, and to just let go. And to step away from voices that unintentionally make it harder.
My struggle is to know what I *want* to do. I appreciate the help in how to make time for those things. I need help in figuring out what those things are. I’m getting better at it as I get older, but it’s still a struggle.
I am so sorry for your loss. 100% true and very good point that there are times to just focus on what (and who) is in front of you. i hope you can get the time and space you need to heal ❤️
Oh I feel every part of this as my dad passed away this past weekend. It’s just me and my mom so my husband took over the majority of planning and assigned tasks to me and my mom. But I also know that planning will be important moving forward to ensure we’re doing things we want to… like making our summer vacation happen.
Loved this and agree w you! Have been doing your nested goals since last fall and it’s been so helpful and brought me a lot of peace. Still working to get all the routines consistent but I really appreciate you sharing this. Also, I don’t see any ads! 🙂
well, that’s awesome about the ads (also weird though – even I see them! maybe you have a great ad blocker!)
I haven’t listened to that episode and might. (I stopped listening to podcasts to watch webinars about ADHD)
I say this with loads of respect and affection for you and what you have created here, but YES, you are a ‘productivity sis’ 😉 Or maybe one in quesitoning or even recovery? I would not cite planning for the reason, but for the monetization of your “leisure” to the point that it is now a part-time job. To be clear, I don’t think this is a bad thing….but real “lesiure” or “rest” does not seem to be one of your guiding joys? Again, loads of respect. You seem to be having a mid-life questioning moment. Mine lasted all of my 40s I think!!
(Yes, the ads are completely out of control!)
Totally fair perspective!!!!
(And true about the monetization of my creative work. But I am working less and have less overall stress than I did when I was full time, so perhaps moving in the right direction.)
On the other side, I do think this is partly “generational” (are you technically “Millennial”?) and an important awareness that your creative work / time should not necessarily be given freely. And that’s sort of where Odell comes in…. I’m interested to see where you go with your thinking about all this. What makes sense for you and keeps you healthy, happy, etc…
The reason I am ok exercising and doing things for myself is that I know if I don’t take care of myself there is no point to any of this. Sometimes you have to just go with the flow and throw away the list.
Yes to this!
Here’s what turns me off from planning from your website (which I enjoy reading!)–you seem to get a lot of anxiety and stress when you have call week. My understanding from reading your blog for a while is a large source of this anxiety and stress is the unpredictability that call introduces into your schedule. But I, and I’m sure many other people, have jobs or lives where our baseline includes a much greater level of unpredictability than your call week and it simply is not an option not to drop what you’re doing and be responsive. The idea that you can plan and control everything accordingly ends up being more of a net negative (in introducing additional anxiety and stress) than a net positive.
Interesting! I appreciate the honest take (and I do suck at call. I think my coping skills during the last couple were a bit better). I do think jobs which require 24/7 ‘on’ are a particular challenge. As to whether it’s my propensity to plan that makes it tougher . . . not sure! (If I had to guess it’s more of an exaggerated reaction to interrupted and unpredictable sleep. If call didn’t include overnights I wouldn’t mind it at all. And I do actually think planning helps me on call – even just spending more time than average reviewing our patient list + prioritizing vs heading to the hospital without much prep.
But also, everyone’s “unpredictability threshold” , to borrow the term from Dana K. White’s “clutter threshold” is differ from and also changes with seasons, etc.
I have colleagues who are ” whatever comes up my way during the work day is fine” vs “oh no, an unexpected meeting in two hours” , and with all of us in the same type of job, it is still ok. People are just … not all the same.
I feel like the reason you’re not a productivity bro is that you’re not pushing people to hustle. You encourage people to rest and do whatever works best for them. And you don’t claim that “anyone can do xyz if they work hard” – instead you acknowledge that ymmv and people have different circumstances and goals. It’s very “take what works for you and leave the rest”, and again very focused on life as a whole, not just work.
I don’t do nearly as detailed planning as you do, but I really enjoy following you for your musings on how to approach life and for your genuineness.
I totally agree with this. My feeling is that you like planning because it benefits you and it brings you joy to share it with others. I don’t plan as much as you do and that’s fine with me. 🙂 Productivity bros be like “Be a CEO by 30 with this random productivity hack!”. Not you at all.
I third this!
I liked that Episode of Deep Questions (until the end, where he reviewed his books of the month and again had no female authors… I know he doesn’t like to be perceived as a Bro but also, maybe read anything by women?) and I think it would be a compliment if there was a cohort of “productivity sis” women who were being targeted in the same way.
Weirdly I wonder if the “productivity bro” sentiment seems antithetical to women in productivity, because by old fashioned standers a “highly productive female” is achieving what a moderately productive male (with full time female domestic support) used to? As in, when women (like you!) are highly productive they achieve more because they balance/excel in so many roles (home live, work life, social life, sport) whereas when men become “highly productive” they generally demonstrate this by excelling in a single (usually career) aspect of their lives?
Might be super off-base here.. I tend to see a lot through the lens of gender. And, please keep up your productivity sis-ing. Maybe you can be Cal’s second ever female guest someday?
would be fun! 🙂
I don’t know how you/the world defines productivity bro, but I would say yes, I think you are one. But that’s just because I’d define anyone with productivity systems who regularly shares those systems with others because they think they could benefit from them are productivity bros. Especially if they monetize their advice/make it their job to help people improve their productivity. That’s in comparison to people who simply are productive and do a lot. They probably have systems that work for them, but it’s kept private or it’s shared once or twice if specifically asked. I think the why behind the actions matters less, but the actions are productivity bro.
As someone myself who has always been into goals and planning (and by extension productivity though not for the explicit goal of productivity), I have become less and less into planning and productivity as I’ve come to accept that I have little control over many things, and it’s okay to live my life one day at a time. With fewer goals and more being, and just being okay with that. (Of course, it’s easier to accept when I’ve already achieved many essential things and can comfortably coast.)
I tend to think of productivity bros in a three categories.
1. Straight-up snake oil salesbros. Like Beth said above, these are the “This one little productivity trick will melt belly fat and make you a CEO by 27 and make you a billionaire by the time you are 32.” Or “Before you get married and settle down you *must* visit Antarctica and have three Teslas and sleep with a supermodel”.
2. Bros who can focus only on their work and don’t get why the rest of us “allow” ourselves to be distracted by our homes and families. This is where I’d place Cal Newport. I think he means well, but comments he makes about “just getting some childcare” etc. come across as pretty clueless and sometimes outright dismissive of how challenging these things can be.
3. No excuses bros. Bros who have no dependents (elderly parents, children, etc.) but imagine how they’d still “crush it” even if they did. Vomiting during a workout because you caught Norovirus from your 4-year-old is just weakness leaving the body.
So I most definitely don’t think of you as a productivity bro.
Also, I push back on the idea that you are a productivity bro because you are trying to make your interest in productivity into a business. There’s this weird vibe sometimes that creators should just give everything they make for free, but I think it’s great when artists, actors, writers, musicians, etc. can making money doing what they love.
Love these categories 🙂
Cal’s episode on that was really good. I have to keep “planning” and people that I watch/read about who are planners in perspective. We see all the planning and assume that they are these “perfect” people who do everything on their To Do list every single day–this is why I appreciate your blog because you are real about what you want to do and plan for it but share when things don’t happen and that’s really what it’s about- keep on sharing 🙂
I really wonder if part of this is from you being an upholder. I am sure that some people could also classify Gretchen Rubin as a “productivity sis.” Especially, if someone doesn’t realize they are not an upholder, the ability to seemingly always complete the tasks you set out to do can seem daunting. Once I embraced my own Questioner/Rebel tendencies, I was much happier with productivity in my life.
And yes to this 😁
I agree with this too. I don’t think you are a productivity bro/sis – although really disliking that term anyway! – because I don’t see you as being in the productivity space at all. Zero so-called productivity hacks here, zero forcing me to fill every hour. Instead a wonderfully upholder-like ability to follow your own plans and a live of planning as a tool for self-reflection and making the most of different phases of life. And a fellow nap-lover. I need to schedule naps as you do.
I love your take on planning, which is joyful. Thanks for sharing the joy.
My reaction to the term “productivity bro” is negative, and I don’t associate you with the hustle-to-grind-constantly mindset I think about. But you obviously love planning and sharing how it helps you so maybe if there was a less bad connotation…
I find planning the most helpful when I have the least control. I’ve got a 3 year old and 4 month old and so little margin for anything. But it’s helpful to feel like I can look at my weeks/days/months and have small goals around food and walks and such. And that’s enough for now, and a life worth living.
Not sure the point! Just thinking!
Sarah- I love your blog and you have helped me in many ways. You do offer planning peace to me as a busy mom. You taught me via example that my days feel more on track with planning. We don’t work in the same professions or have similar schedules but that does not matter at all. I have learned a ton. I love to check in with you and Laura to feel grounded daily. For whatever that is called, thank you, thank you.
Aww thank you so much Nicole!!!
Hi, I’m so glad you linked this in your newsletter because I really had a lot of thoughts on this. I think that when marketed towards men, planning is all about how productivity will make you successful in the typical alpha male stereotype (like other comments have said, CEO by age 25, millionaire by 30, running marathons between yacht trips, etc). When marketed towards women, the story is very different – it’s about how overwhelmed we are and how planning can bring us calm to the chaos. In this sense, you are very much NOT a productivity bro.
I was wondering why it’s harder to comment from a desktop. Takes me a bit to x-out the ads so I can actually type.