Olden tips for a productive life worth throwing in the trash

Olden tips for a productive life worth throwing in the trash
Photo by Joshua Olsen / Unsplash

Holy bullshit, but is this (behind paywall) a whack of nonsense. It’s a business column in the Globe that warns slackers that having work ethic is back in fashion.

Among the many nuggets of wisdom I have received about building a successful career is this: Be the one who turns the office lights on in the morning and turns them off at the end of the workday. Of course, that was from the days when people actually went to the office and the term “work ethic” really meant something. 

OK, that’s enough.

I despise slackers as much as the next Gen-Xer but give me a break already. The best way to distinguish yourself in your career is to be really hard to replace through work that is as valuable as it is unique.

You ever listened to and/or read Seth Godin? You really should. Unless, that is, your goal in life is to be the absolute and most unrewarded cog in a heartless machine.

If you’re into anything creative or original, if you get up each morning yearning to be the best biped you can be and maybe eventually do something that makes the world a little bit better, being first in the office and last to leave is exactly the wrong strategy to use. Plus it makes you a really dull person.

We’re humans with creative genius or at least, some imagination. We are not just inputs and outputs. Sure, you can use your creative genius and hard work to create a great deal of output with the least amount of input, provided those inputs aren't humans.

See, people who obsess about productivity usually measure the wrong things. How many widgets can we manufacture using the smallest possible number of humans is something you can measure. But what does a high number tell you? That you’re good at squeezing outputs out of humans.

Yeah, you’ll make money. At least for a while. But at what cost to the overall society? Do we really want to live in a world where humans are easily replaceable automatons whose entire existence is justified when they make someone else more money than they can use?

red padded couch on beach shore during daytime
Photo by engin akyurt / Unsplash

Today, if your work is done on a computer and doesn’t involve too much math, odds are you can do it from anywhere there’s internet.

Maybe you do your best work without shoes, lying down on your couch while the third season of Yellowstone is quietly playing in the background — wait, that’s not just me, right? How do you do your best work? For some people, being in a physical space devoted to work and nothing else is the ticket. For them, going to the office is worth it although I’ll fight you on the idea that being at the office is productive, given the constant interruptions and the program manager with the incredibly annoying laugh.

Just last Thursday I had to spend a month in Brockville between 8 am and 4 pm. I parked myself at one Starbucks for a few hours, then drove to the other Starbucks (Brockville now has two!) for a couple hours, before returning to the first one to finish off the day. During those hours I had extremely productive meetings, one lovely chat with Beloved, filed a column, wrote a great keynote speech — oh, and cleaned up my email and did plenty of research for another important piece.

The only thing I could do to distract myself from the fact that I was stuck in Brockville until 4 pm was work like a fiend and man, did I ever. But it’s not the kind of pace that one can replicate every day. Most days I have more productive writing hours (typically before noon and after 5 pm) and other hours where I focus on reading, taking notes, meetings and other admin stuff. It works for me and the people I work with know and appreciate that the work I produce (my output) is my best. The smart ones don’t give a shit what my methods are because I produce high quality work and never miss a deadline. I also handle emergencies and last-minute crises without complaining too much.

I am working hard to be that linchpin person Godin talks about. In my socks. Sometimes with piano-playing breaks. I sing to the cat, too.

If you get your best work done at the office, by all means go there. But being at the office long hours just to be there long hours is not going to get you anywhere. If all you've got going for you is a terrific work ethic, you'll do fine. But never more than that.

Not for me, thanks.

Produce work that has so much value that you can command the right compensation, to say nothing of working conditions. Oh, and you'll never be unemployed. Yes of course you need discipline (or work ethic; I use either interchangeably) because nobody can become indispensable without that. On its own, it accomplishes nothing.

Be you, and crank it up to 11. That’s your work ethic.