This is Chapter 6 of The Best Self-Help is Free, a treatise by Mr. Stolyarov. You can read all chapters of this freely available treatise here.
The most reliable way to achieve incremental progress in your life is by addressing and continually improving your own productivity.
Productivity constitutes the difference between a world in which life is nasty, brutish, and short and one in which it is pleasant, civilized, and ever-increasing in length. Every single accomplishment that separates modern man from his primeval ancestors was wrought from the raw materials of nature by human productive work. Yet what does productivity consist of? And why do some people display far more of it than others?
Productivity requires some ethical standard by which to evaluate it. After all, most sensible individuals will recognize that not all physically or mentally taxing work is productive. While digging a hole to put in a steel beam that supports a skyscraper is a fine example of productivity, digging the same hole with the intention to fill it in again is not – it could even properly be called counterproductive because of the opportunity cost it carries.
The standard in relation to which productivity is judged is one of human flourishing. Whenever an action undertaken by an individual contributes to his flourishing – or contributes to somebody else’s flourishing without detracting from him own – that action may be termed productive. Whenever an action positively impedes an individual’s flourishing or that of others, it can be termed a destructive deed – the opposite of a productive one.
It is essential to note that the productivity of an endeavor need have no relation to the human actor’s opinions, feelings, or sensations regarding that endeavor. A task of little productivity could nonetheless leave a person physically exhausted, emotionally fatigued, and intellectually numb. On the other hand, it is possible for certain jobs of monumental importance to be accomplished by exerting only a small fraction of the effort of which an individual is capable.
Furthermore, it is possible for an individual engaged in productive work to hate what he is doing and wish that he were engaged in something far less productive or even counterproductive instead. Yet, simply by means of the objective physical changes that the work imparts on the world, the actor will be benefited by it in the long run and will likely recognize such benefits ex post. To illustrate this, we need only to consider that most young children would greatly prefer running in circles in the backyard to learning their times tables. Yet, with time, virtually all of them recognize that the latter made a far more significant positive contribution to their lives than the former.
Whether a man likes the work he does and whether it tires him are questions separate from the inherent productivity of the work itself. They are not insignificant questions and are quite relevant to discussions of productivity maximization. But the distinction between one’s subjective evaluation of one’s work and its objective consequences needs to be made nonetheless.
Read all chapters of The Best Self-Help is Free.