On the Drawbacks of Productivity


Over the last several days, I’ve been trying something new with my calendar.

For nearly two years, ever since I took a program called Mission Control (it’s much less geeky than it sounds—and it’s stunningly effective), I’ve had the habit of scheduling everything I need to get done in a day into my Microsoft Office Outlook calendar. The system allows me to literally plan every minute of a day for any given span of time. (In my case, I usually plan an entire year out. So even if it’s only January, I already know what what my December’s going to look like). Any task that takes up more than a 15-minute increment of time gets captured, even if it’s as mundane and repetitive as doing your laundry or sorting your mail.

For the last two years, I’ve used the system with astounding effect, and it’s probably the tool to which I owe almost all of my productivity. What happens is I just look at my calendar, and then I do whatever it is I’ve written there for me to do. If a task gets completed, it gets crossed out. Some of the most satisfying evenings I’ve had are the evenings when I’d look at my calendar and find a completely crossed out day.

Over the last few months, however, the system has become THE enemy. Precisely because of how I customarily use it (deleting the accomplished items and retaining the unfinished tasks), what I’m usually left with is just a list of all the things I haven’t done—with not a single trace left of the things that I’ve actually done. As one can imagine, it paints an extremely skewed picture of the actual events of a day—one that leaves an extraordinarily bad taste in one’s mouth.

If I managed to use the system for years though without experiencing the aforementioned disgruntlement (which is a relatively recent phenomenon), it has everything to do with who I was before my big pre-thirty-transition happened. In a nutshell, I was an efficiency and productivity freak, and basically a very difficult person to be with for any span of time longer than a day. Then for reasons that I’ve mentioned in one post or another in this blog, I…mellowed, and things that used to be unmitigated blessings turned into double-edged swords.

So now the new thing that I’m doing is keeping a secondary, paper-based diary (given to me by my mother from her inexhausible supply). I still use my electronic calendar, and I still continue to cross things out from it, but now I write the day’s accomplishments in my little paper journal. It feels a little silly, since I’m essentially just translating data from one medium to another—but it also feels surprisingly good.

All of which goes to prove that a lot of happiness can be derived from the simplest and silliest things—like little paper journals chronicling the purposeful passage of unrepeatable days.

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