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The Problem with Productivity

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 22, 2016

What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:16 TM)

It’s 6.30am and I have just gotten two of my children out of bed and I look at my phone to check the time. Already, about ten of my local colleagues are apparently up, coffeed and have set to work setting the world to rights. How do they do it? Then there is the other colleague who travels the world, works on every single form of transport and has written more guides than you can shake a stick it.

 

We are all very productive. But apparently that isn’t enough.

 

Recently, there has been an arms race to be even more productive. People have told us 10 things that mega-successful people do before 6am (apparently sleep isn’t one of them). Twitter is full of time-saving ideas and tools. We download apps, buy fancy 4G internet dongles so we can work halfway up a Chilean mountain and even send emails from the bathroom.

 

We are producing a lot but what kind of people are we producing? Actually, let’s be more honest, what kind of people are we becoming?

 

As part of the Being a Successful Interpreter courses, I run an interactive session on Your Career and Your Life. One of the main messages of that session is that the two things are not the same. Your career is not your life.

 

But ask any interpreter or events professional and they might have difficulty telling the two apart. Ask them about their hobbies and they will tell you something career-related. “I read Conference News” or “I learn more languages” or “I blog on [something career-related].”

 

Since we all love the daily stresses of our jobs, we can often mistake doing professional stuff that we enjoy for actually relaxing. As much as I love blogging and writing, for the sake of my own mental health (not to mention my family), I have to class them as “work”. As much as I love learning about new fields, that is not the same as giving my brain some downtime.

 

There is a reason why every major religion in the world mandates that people take one day a week and stop anything that could be classed as work. Our bodies were not built to be running at 100% effort, 7 days a week. And, that is all the more true when you have jobs that are as stressful as ours.

 

The secret of achieving is not in how much you produce but in how sustainably you work. One of the most powerful questions I ask in my courses is this: “Being honest with yourself, how sustainable is your current rhythm and volume of work?”

 

How would you answer?

 

Sure, for some people, there is a need to ramp up. If you do one job a month worth £50, you won’t be able to pay your bills after a while. But most events professionals and interpreters I have met live on the other end. They are like me, when I eventually dragged myself to the physio with dodgy knees.

 

“Mr Downie,” he said. “Your problem is your job.”

 

I had been spending too long at my desk, too long stressing and fretting and not enough time exercising, enjoying the company of my friends and family and breathing outdoors.

 

There really is no point in producing like a wild thing for a year, only to land up in hospital by Christmas. Amidst all the voices pushing us to do more and create more, we need to listen to the voices calling us to think more and rest more.

 

Perhaps the hardest challenge for us all is not to get up earlier or douse ourselves in ice water but to rest. How about we all take on the Sabbath challenge? For one whole day every week, do no work at all. Rest, read good books, go for a walk, meet friends, watch a sunset, play with children, do anything that is nothing to do with work and doesn’t require an internet connection. Try it and see just how much better you perform.