Busy bodies: why productive people are a scourge on society

They harm the planet, clog up the roads, work crazy hours and make the rest of us feel guilty

Productivity isn’t always good for the planet. Photograph: iStock

Productivity isn’t always good for the planet. Photograph: iStock

 

I used to like reading articles about productivity instead of getting down to work. The pastime gave me the feeling of doing something useful while not really doing anything at all.

Usually, so far as I can see, these articles are written by men. I don’t know why that is. Probably for the same unknown reason that only men ogle computer magazines in newsagents.

My pastime became unattractive when I realised that the harm done by productive people outweighs the good and may turn out to be fatal for the planet.

Most of us already know that carbon emissions dating from the time of the Industrial Revolution are still around and still contributing to global warming. But many of us were surprised recently to learn that about 9 per cent of warming is due to carbon emissions dating from before the Industrial Revolution. One of the culprits was the burning down of forests to make way for agriculture. Roots and wood products still decaying since the clearance are still emitting carbon, according to a report on the Institute of Physics website.

What do these farmers have in common with the titans of the Industrial Revolution? They were all very, very productive. And their obsession with productivity, along with that of their counterparts in more modern times, has helped to bring us to a point at which life as we know it is vanishing in front of our eyes.

On a micro level, productive people can be pests, clogging the streets with cars or expensive bicycles as they rush to work, looking to hold meetings at eight o’clock in the morning and to work until eight o’clock in the evening and filling unproductive people with a vague sense of guilt.

Sometimes, the productive invest in bad schemes, rush out bad products, and push the legitimate concerns of other people aside in their need to get on with things.

Vague sense of guilt

Those of us who are less productive need to shake off that vague sense of guilt.

I can proudly boast that I have contributed to non-productivity. I can look back over my career in journalism and elsewhere and say that I was never as productive as I might have been. During my years with The Irish Times I was the only journalist in the newsroom who was never owed any time off in lieu. While others accumulated ‘TOIL’ by working far too hard, and even on days off and on their holidays, I kept the work-life balance firmly on the side of life.

When I left, I owed the company a couple of days.

Still, despite my failure to “achieve” my “potential”, I did manage to produce a few decent pieces of work which may possibly (you never can tell) have benefited people I wrote about who had been kicked around by one system or another.

But when I became self-employed I did that self-employed thing of working seven days a week. Just over a year ago, I decided to cut this back to nine days a fortnight. So far, the productivity police have not called to take me into custody.

I’m telling you this not because what I do matters to anybody other than myself and one or two other people, but to suggest that you should look with a sceptical eye on the whole productivity thing.

When people are going home from your funeral in the hopefully distant future, they are unlikely to be talking to each other about how productive you were. They might recall how cheerful, gloomy, laid-back or angry you were as a person. “He was a great man for getting through a to-do list” is unlikely to figure.

Remember this when you’re on your holidays this summer, as the sea water rises on the beaches. You see an email from work and you automatically start to add your tuppenceworth to the “reply to all” conversation. Stop and think about those eager farmers burning down the forests centuries ago and choking your atmosphere today.

Then decide if you really need to answer after all.

– Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Kindfulness. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com)

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