Can Productivity be a Trap?

happiness and productivity

Productivity is a good thing, right? The sense of accomplishment can certainly be a genuine source of joy and satisfaction. Sometimes though, we forget why we are striving to be more productive.

Isn’t greater happiness the reason behind increased productivity? Don’t we convince ourselves that getting more done will finally give us the time for things we truly enjoy? Our pursuit of increased productivity, should result in increased happiness right?

The trap we need to be aware of

Striving to be more productive and increase our efficiency can lead to obsession. We could wind up confusing achievement for happiness. Happiness should be the inspiration for achievement, not the other way around

When our happiness is too wrapped up in achievement, we are putting our happiness in the future. We are denying ourselves the right to be happy until we meet certain conditions.

Have you ever said this?

“I’ll be really happy just as soon as:

- I get out of debt.
- Solve this one problem.
- Lose 5 more pounds.
- Find the right partner.
- Land the perfect job.

There’s nothing wrong with being more productive. But when our happiness depends on it, then we have a problem.

The productivity trap

We strive to be more productive and efficient so we can get more done. Originally, our reason is to have more free time and reduce our stress levels. We reason that once we get everything done, we won’t have to think about it anymore, right?

But if we’re not careful, we may allow our desire to accomplish more to become an obsession. We may become so obsessed with producing that we are not even satisfied with the results. Why? Because, by the time we get there, we’re already focused on what comes next.

Don’t put conditions on happiness

That’s why we need to have the courage to re-evaluate and re-prioritize our goals along the way. Our lives are ever changing, not static. We need to be able to make adjustments along the way. A goal that served you well last year might be out of harmony with your life now.

It is vital that we maintain an awareness of who we are in the moment and were we really want to be tomorrow. Do not fear change because it is a natural part of growth. And don’t convince yourself that more, more, more is the path to happiness. Allow yourself to be happy right now!

Have you ever been a victim of this trap?
Are you ever tempted to link happiness to productivity?

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  1. Dragos Roua March 1, 2009 Reply

    I’m sharing a common mindset with you here. Productivity is a tool, a sharp one. And as any other tool – think at a knife, for instance – it can be used to enhance you, or to hurt you.

    • Jonathan May 8, 2011 Reply

      Well said Dragos, it’s a tool that can cut the rest of our life to pieces if not kept in its place. The real danger comes when we anchor our happiness in productivity. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to enjoy our work, but we shouldn’t allow productivity to represent the key to happiness.

  2. Kristi Hines May 19, 2011 Reply

    I usually try to be happy wherever I’m at while working towards the next thing. That way if things don’t work out, I will still be aware of all the good things that are happening around me to let everything collapse over one missed goal.

    • Jonathan May 20, 2011 Reply

      Hi Kristi, I’d say you’ve discovered one of the biggest secrets to living a happy life. What is that secret? Learn to love the process! Almost any pursuit involves a process and that’s where we will spend the majority of our time. So, to enjoy life we need to enjoy the process.

  3. Rocket Bunny May 20, 2011 Reply

    Hello Jonathan, This cuts to the core with me. I focused on education,career and traveling until the age of 25 then expanded on the things I had put off in life in order to be successful at my priorities. That lack of experience in the other areas has been some what of a burden since.

    First sign thinking back, was when an ex-boyfriend said I sounded like I was making a business proposal instead of a commitment. He asked where he could sign. :) The lack of relationship experience during the early years has proven to be a disability at my ripe old age.
    Enjoyed this article very much.
    Respect, ~RB

    • Jonathan May 20, 2011 Reply

      Hi Bunny, that’s an interesting self analysis. Thankfully, life is a learning experience and that includes our relationship skills. It could be that you just skipped the relationship preschool stage which tends to be dominated by immaturity anyway. So, in the long run you may be better off. How’s that for turning a perceived disability into a benefit?

  4. Rocket Bunny May 20, 2011 Reply

    Thank you -
    Smiling now!

  5. David Stevens May 20, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, You are pretty well on the money with this one (again). I certainly have been happy when I have been productive, you know, achieving things, meeting goals. However I have been far happier when I have been “effective”. Efficiency is great, effectiveness is greater.

    WE as human beings, in most cases feel happy when we please someone else. Being happy for yourself is different. I don’t know, when I am effective I get a sense of real achievement. Maybe that’s my ‘happinessmeter’. Happiness is many things to many people. I just feel happy, it’s an emotion that I choose.
    Be good to yourself

    • Jonathan May 20, 2011 Reply

      Hey David, I love the distinction you made between efficiency and effectiveness, especially when it involves helping someone. That’s a great feeling alright. Pretty high on my happiness meter also!

  6. RILEY May 21, 2011 Reply

    Hello Jonathan
    While journaling I identified over 100 traps that I need to avoid. Finally someone has identified one trap (productivity) that I feel confident that I can avoid without a whole lot of work. LOL

    • Jonathan May 21, 2011 Reply

      Hi Riley, that’s funny. Of course, we all enjoy being productive, it’s an important part of our positive feedback loop. The danger comes when our intrinsic sense of happiness is anchored in obsessive productivity. You might want to check and see if these 67 Personal Development Pitfalls to Avoid are on your list.

  7. Martha Giffen May 21, 2011 Reply

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Isn’t the whole goal of being productive so you’ll have more time on your hands to pursue happiness? That’s what I thought! LOL

    • Jonathan May 23, 2011 Reply

      Hi Martha, I think we all start out with that same goal, but it is easy to get caught up in the productivity mindset. When that happens we can easily forget about that original goal. That’s why it’s a trap!

  8. Jeffrey Willius May 21, 2011 Reply

    I think the key is getting around the rationalization that we work so hard to earn a happier, more abundant life later. Isn’t future happiness is as much an oxymoron as virtual reality?

    • Jonathan May 23, 2011 Reply

      Hi Jeffrey, I’m sure we all want to be happy in the future and that’s one of the main reasons we strive to be productive. The problem comes when we postpone happiness and attach it to some future event or accomplishment. That’s a mindset that will continue to hold happiness just out of reach. I say embrace happiness now and in the future. One of the best ways to do that is to learn to love the process and not just the outcome.

  9. Nea May 25, 2011 Reply

    So very true. I believe the energy of happiness draws forth circumstances of happiness. If we’re sitting around feeling crappy until all these conditions are met, we’ll forever chase the joy we desire.

    • Jonathan May 26, 2011 Reply

      Hi Nea, I totally agree, chasing happiness is not nearly as much fun as embracing happiness right now. Your smile tells me that you have done that and I find it contagious.

  10. Frank August 27, 2011 Reply

    I’ve heard that about happiness being a choice. Your talk about limiting beliefs I think is my problem, for some reason I tend to believe that if I become happy then some disaster will happen to take it away. My limiting belief .

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