Productivity Won't Make You Happy

4,000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Most of us have an incredibly unhealthy relationship with work and productivity.

And a big source of that unhealthy relationship is all the productivity books out there and the influencers who keep promoting them.

I used to think the secret to unlimited wealth and eternal happiness was hidden in the habits of high performers, or the right note taking tool, or the right productivity method. I read productivity and self-help and business books OBSESSIVELY.

And look a lot of people start off in their non-fiction journey with those kinds of book. They’re easy to read, they give some promise of improving your life, and you feel like you’re investing in your future self when you read them.

And sometimes you are! There are books in that category that have made a significant, meaningful improvement in my life. But the list is very short. Most have been a waste of time, and many of them contributed to the unhealthy relationship with work and time that we’re here to talk about today.

Because one of the few books in the self-help-y category that has had a meaningful lasting positive impact on me is 4,000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.

It presents a new way of looking at “productivity” and our relationship with work without going completely in the “you should be happy sitting around doing nothing” direction. It sets a perfect balance between the needs to make money and be ambitious, without letting it destroy you.

I’ll share some of my favorite highlights from the book here. And as always, if you want to listen to the audio, subscribe to the Nat’s Notes podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts by searching “Nat’s Notes.”

This edition is sponsored by Readwise!

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Our problem isn’t our limited time, it’s how we think about time

“The real problem isn't our limited time. The real problem… is that we've unwittingly inherited, and feel pressured to live by, a troublesome set of ideas about how to use our limited time.”

If we obsess over the future, we spend our days “just getting through things”

Our days are spent trying to "get through" tasks, in order to get them "out of the way," with the result that we live mentally in the future, waiting for when we'll finally get around to what really matters and worrying, in the meantime, that we don't measure up, that we might lack the drive or stamina to keep pace with the speed at which life now seems to move.”

Hurrying makes you frustrated with things that can’t be hurried

“the more you believe you might succeed in "fitting everything in," the more commitments you naturally take on, and the less you feel the need to ask whether each new commitment is truly worth a portion of your time and so your days inevitably fill with more activities you don't especially value. The more you hurry, the more frustrating it is to encounter tasks (or toddlers) that won't be hurried; the more compulsively you plan for the future, the more anxious you feel about any remaining uncertainties, of which there will always be plenty. And the more individual sovereignty you achieve over your time, the lonelier you get.”

Distraction is not relaxation

the crucial point isn't that it's wrong to choose to spend your time relaxing, whether at the beach or on BuzzFeed. It's that the distracted person isn't really choosing at all. Their attention has been commandeered by forces that don't have their highest interests at heart.”

There will be a last time you do everything and you won’t know it

Just as there will be a final occasion on which I pick up my son a thought that appalls me, but one that's hard to deny, since I surely won't be doing it when he's thirty-there will be a last time that you visit your childhood home, or swim in the ocean, or make love, or have a deep conversation with a certain close friend. Yet usually there'll be no way to know, in the moment itself, that you're doing it for the last time. Harris's point is that we should therefore try to treat every such experience with the reverence we'd show if it were the final instance of it.”

Leisure should be enjoyed for its own sake

Enjoying leisure for its own sake-which you might have assumed was the whole point of leisure-comes to feel as though it's somehow not quite enough. It begins to feel as though you're failing at life, in some indistinct way, if you're not treating your time off as an investment in your future… a more surreptitious form of the same attitude has also infected your friend who always seems to be training for a 10K, yet who's apparently incapable of just going for a run.”

You can enjoy a hobby without turning it into a side hustle

In an age of instrumentalization, the hobbyist is a subversive: he insists that some things are worth doing for themselves alone, despite offering no payoffs in terms of productivity or profit… This also helps explain why it's far less embarrassing (indeed, positively fashionable) to have a "side hustle," a hobbylike activity explicitly pursued with profit in mind.”

A question to ask yourself…

How would you spend your days differently if you didn't care so much about seeing your actions reach fruition?”

I hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Nat’s Notes!

Be sure to check out the podcast if you haven’t, and I’ll be back next week with another great book to share with you.