Is Your Work Output the 'Only Proof' That You're Working?

In 'Esquire,' Kelly Stout ponders whether productivity, the process, or something else is what matters
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 31, 2024 1:00 PM CDT
Is Productivity Overhyped? One Worker's Take
How productive are you at work?   (Getty Images/Inside Creative House)

If you've tried every multitasking trick in the book to maximize your time on the job, Kelly Stout wants you to know you're not alone. In Esquire, Stout writes that she spent a lot of time earlier in her career assigned to busywork, longing for "a life in which I had too much work and not enough time to do it." Her wish has since come true, pushed along by the pandemic, when how much work you produced from home seemed on many days to be "the only proof you were even alive." Stout recalls that "a sense that I wasn't producing enough began to wrap itself around me like a python," and she tried all kinds of things to help her churn out more, more, more—from wearing blue-light glasses while using the computer to help with her attention span, to shoving her phone into a Tupperware container, with a timer on it set for its release, so she wouldn't be tempted by distractions.

But despite taking a deep dive into various articles, books, and other resources meant to help her up productivity, Stout soon came to wonder whether her efforts would make a meaningful difference. "To me, people who were doing the bare minimum seemed no different from those doing the maximum in that both of them were apparently able to answer that which I could not: How much are you supposed to produce in order to become worthy?" She also began to realize it was maybe the process itself ("pushing the rock up the hill"), and the focus and "flow state" needed for that process, that could bring her satisfaction, not necessarily her final output. "If I could not just produce but experience joy in the production, then that would solve every one of my problems, every one of my employer's problems, and probably all of society's," Stout writes. See how the rest of it played out for her here. (Or read other longform recaps.)

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