Productivity Is For Robots! Here's How To Stay Human




I was lying in bed on a Saturday night back in 2018 and this was during a time that I was in a deep hole of mental and emotional burnout I was overworked and overwhelmed and as I was lying there haunted by my never-ending to-do list it suddenly occurred to me that it didn't really matter what I did or didn't do because I remained driven by an insidious feeling that I was just never doing enough i turned on Saturday night live and the comedian John Mullaney was hosting and let me just say I did not expect the stand up on SNL to shake me with a life-changing epiphany but here we are in his opening monologue, he said everything moves too fast now the world is run by computers 

    the world is run by robots and sometimes they ask us if we're robots just because we're trying to log in and look at our own stuff you spend a lot of time telling robots you're not a robot think about that for a second is that moment i finally understood I realized that for every step, technology takes toward becoming more human we take a step to meet it halfway speed efficiency optimization these aren't just the traits we expect from our devices these have become the qualities that we demand from ourselves we want the life hacks the smart pills anything to squeeze out that the last drip of focus technology was supposed to set us free and yet many of us have chosen to imitate it each day we get online clicking photos of stop signs and bicycles just to confirm I'm not a robot 

    and yet each day so many of us get online and compete in this never-ending game of robotic productivity now I don't believe that the problem is our ambition the problem is that in this blind march toward getting things done we've lost sight of the things worth doing i know that isn't like this for everyone we all know those people who accomplish more than anyone else yet they never seem stressed or overwhelmed I know i hate those people too but I used to watch them from afar and wonder how do they do it what do they know that I don't know what is it that I'm missing and what I discovered after a few years of research and lots of trial and error is that what these seemingly superhumans have figured out is that you don't need to be superhuman at all and the hidden and the same traits that separate us from technology is our human nature now it's 

    important to mention that there was a time when society needed humans to machine the industrial revolution rewarded those who could work harder faster and longer than others but that's no longer the world we live in and I believe that one of the reasons so many of us are burnt out and disconnected are we're still trapped in this old world definition of what it means to be productive and useful Ernest Hemingway once wrote never confuse movement with action which updated for the new the post-industrial world would be never confused movement with meaning as humans we need meaning in the work that we do to feel truly satisfied but the problem was searching for meaning through endless productivity is that we already have robots 

    that can work 168 hours a week we already have machines that can weigh the odds and see the probabilities what the new world really needs is for more humans to get back to that which separates us from technology creativity the round-trip ticket to elsewhere and back again must be human to ride only humans can escape reality through a secret hatch in the mind to leave with real-world problems and return with other world solutions technology will never replace human creativity because codes and algorithms are built on what's expected to happen creativity is the unexpected as humans, we have the power of curiosity imagination and empathy we have the capacity for courage the greatest gifts that you and I will ever share with the world won't be born out of robotic thinking or aimless productivity it'll be born out of our true human nature 

        so if we all have these traits inside of us the question becomes how do we put them to use how do we cut the fat on movement to make way for more meaning i spent two years researching different ways to change my relationship with work and productivity and today I want to share three strategies that have had the biggest impact on my life the first strategy is what I like to call never empty the well and we're gonna go back to Ernest Hemingway for some more wisdom in his memoir on life in Paris Hemingway wrote I had learned already to never empty the well of my riding but to always stop when there was still something in the deep part of the well and to let it refill at night from the springs that fed it now 

    if you're like me you learned a long time ago that the greatest sin of high performance is to leave anything on the table we celebrate those who can burn the midnight oil and leave it all on the field so it's no surprise that when we persevere past an empty energy tank that we feel as though we're somehow winning the game the problem is that when we walk away from our work drained dazed and confused our subconscious is keeping score the bad form that we finish our day with gets internalized in our minds and bodies and that feeling of trying to draw water from an empty well becomes forever attached to the work that we do 

    so these all-night work sessions and heroic stretches of output might produce results but the brain drain that you feel when you walk away will follow you home and hit you right back to your desk the next day that's what Hemingway understood he knew that anyone could learn to outlast the others any robot or machine can work around the clock the key to staying human is to walk away before you're cooked it takes a cool 

    Hemingway like confidence to tell them uses we've worked enough today I'm sure I'll see you around tomorrow the second strategy I'd like to share today is called find your wabi-sabi and for this we need miles Davis the man whose name is forever attached to jazz music, again and again, miles Davis and his trumpet reinvented what jazz music was and what it could be yet despite his years of dedication and the study he struggled to ever master his instrument his tone was cracked and restrained often out of tune with what was happening around him he constantly missed notes and his dexterity was considered feeble miles also played with a shyness that lacked the traditional bravado of his heroes and peers but over time it was these mechanical limitations that became his greatest asset unable to weigh on the high end he was forced to play with vulnerability his soft tones gave him little to hide behind 

    and those missed notes created emptiness and tension his playing created drama and it was his imperfections that resulted in a style that was his and his alone it was his imperfections that forever changed jazz music the Japanese call it wabi-sabi the beauty found in the imperfect impermanent and incomplete it's our wabi-sabi that points us towards the things that only we can do in the way that only we can do them and more important to our success than doing the good the great or the perfect is pursuing the personal quirks and ticks that make us unique now of course when it comes to discovering what makes us special we're often the last to know but the T

The good news is that no one has to work extra hard at becoming unique you're already you already have your own next unique set of fingerprints the key like so much of life is becoming aware so to turn your wabi-sabi into a compass you just have to start with one question how am I different not better just different because once you can answer that the question that you become free to ask how can i be different and better and if you struggle to answer either of those questions right now don't worry like miles Davis himself once said man, sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself so now that we're avoiding perfection and walking away from our work before we're drained what are we going to do with some of that extra time 

    well we're going to waste it the third and final strategy I'd like to share today is to waste more time now it was when I was in my deepest pit of burnout and I was behaving more like a stressed-out cyborg than a living breathing human is that I hated this idea of wasting time and in order to avoid the guilt that came with doing nothing i constantly looked for ways to stay busy by a show of hands how many people here have ever had to turn down an exciting invitation or opportunity because they were just too damn busy all right lots of hands 

    I see some people without their hands up that are squirming in their seats a little bit it's okay you know when I look back on this time in my life, i realize now that much of my busyness was really just frantic movement in a collared shirt busyness was the safety rail that I put around my comfort zone it was a disguise that I wore to look at myself in the mirror after a long week of emotional avoidance I discovered that it was a lot easier for me to say I'm too busy rather than I'm scared and i don't know where to start and don't worry 

    this isn't a call to just banish busy work altogether but we need to accept that busywork often gets in the way of meaningful work and the bigger problem is that too much busywork actually prevents our brains from knowing what meaningful work is this is why i believe that we all need more unfocused unscheduled idle time iodines breeds insight because clarity is a result of mental digestion I'll say that again idleness breeds insight because clarity is a result of mental digestion living in a perpetual state of busy however limits that digestion no ones gonna have their best ideas when they're locked and loaded on task execution day after day or week after week and a mind that is never left to meander or to waste time is a mind headed for burnout so my challenge to you all today then is to embrace those lazy afternoons where the agenda can be blank 

    where your mind is free to run off-leash through unscheduled and unfocused time and then please for the love of true productivity go do the things you've always wanted to do if you weren't so damn busy we are living in a time where the old world skills are becoming obsolete and the future no longer belongs to those who can outwork the others belong to those who are the most creative empathetic and courageous it belongs to those who can stay human and it's by realigning ourselves with what it means to be human that we can reclaim meaning in the work 

    that we do because when productivity is aligned with meaning it doesn't lead to more burnout and overwhelm it leads to more joy pride and connection it leads to a greater excitement for life and it's by sharpening the skills of human nature that we can create lives we don't need to take a vacation from and we can rediscover the things worth doing because when technology does finally steal away that last chore or mindless task when robotic arms descend to cook our meals drive our cars and do our jobs will we remember just what to do with ourselves it's time to leave the hustle and grind to the machines it's time to confirm once and for all i am not a robot thank you

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