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András Tóth
András Tóth

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Endless obsession with productivity

I am doing the job since 2008 and before that I was learning to do the job in university. Year by year I started to feel more and more unease about "productivity tips", "productivity hacks", "staying in the flow" and in general the obsession with being a one-man army overperforming the whole world in productivity.

I have a memory from years ago when I was googling "Burn-out signs" and then I started thinking about "You know, the fact I am looking for signs of being burnt-out might also be a sign that I might be getting burnt-out...".

Later I have seen a talk live about burn out and productivity; first I have forgotten the name of the excellent dev who talked about this issue; and second I do not wish to copy his work here, I will be merely summarising it in one or two sentences before I say what I need to say.

So his thinking was this:
To be productive...

  • you have to turn off distractions (checking your phone, keep in FOMO at bay...)
  • you have to stop context switching (doing 199 tasks in parallel)
  • you have to say no to overworking and to managers; 8 hours a day at max., and your resting time is truly about resting, no coding

Is productivity a solo thing?

The list above still looks at productivity (and motivation - I need to write about that as well) as a personal thing. You are either productive or not. Your productivity your life choices.

But whatever performance micro-optimisations you are going to do the truth is there are lot bigger factors; you have to be honest about your own performance and what the main drivers are, otherwise you will be having anxiety attacks going to work a couple of years after feeling so powerful about being so super productive.

I am not saying articles about productivity are wrong. There is nothing wrong about researching how to be more productive! But not seeing the whole picture can get you actually sick or demotivated.

Sometimes your biggest productivity boost will be being at another workplace that fits your personality better.

The productivity killers we don't talk about

Therefore I present to you my little list about huge productivity killers:

  • disruptive meetings: if you can't clock in 4 hours without a distractive meeting per day you can't be that productive
  • working on the wrong thing: while per line of code you can be very productive shipping the wrong thing from the viewpoint of either the customer or the company that is wasted time; if you are unsure/unclear what to do waste coding time on getting answers from people (either from UX researchers, product management or from users directly)
  • fear driven workplaces: coding is not linear work like moving from flat A to flat B. When you code you have to sometimes go back and unfix your fix to fix it again the right way. You can't do that if you are afraid. In one of my workplaces people were told that they will face consequences if their bug tickets are reopened. People started not reporting bugs so their colleagues won't get fired and they told them to fix things on unofficial channels.
  • dysfunctional teams: you can't be productive if you can't agree with your other devs on anything or when code-reviews are tense moments.
  • demotivating company management: I was the least productive in my life when the company without ever consulting us changed the stack completely we were on (from C# to JS), smashed a huge number of people who did not work with each other beforehand together to build a product that was unclear from the start, all the while we needed to create a microservice architecture without any training on the topic. Later I felt there was something sadistically sarcastic about asking me why I was demotivated and disillusioned with the company.
  • life problems: going to buy a house? Getting through a break-up? Diagnosed with a heavy illness? In those times no 🔥 20 productivity tips 🔥 will save your work.

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