Recently, I saw a tweet from Justin Welsh in which he describes his annoyance with those focused on productivity. He noted that he’d prefer to spend time with family over “maximizing time”.
Of course this makes sense. Of course we can readily agree with the sentiment.
There is an error in our focus on productivity. I may even be labeled as a productivity talking-head. I’ve more than likely made the error myself. 1
The error is that the focus should not be on productivity so much as it is on mastery.
Mastery is a process, a development over time for something you care about. That could be your family or that could be a craft.
This way, you choose the thing or things you are mastering and the remainder of your world is around supporting those. You don’t need to master everything, so much as take them to a point of being strong enough to support what you find meaningful.
Secondly, I strongly believe that mastery absolutely requires play.
In fact, the central theory that runs through all my books and courses is:
Mastery and meaningful work develop from guided play.
Play, in turn, is something we practice as adults. As kids, caregivers would hopefully provide trusted environments in which we could play, which gave us the paths to develop mastery for walking, talking, and engaging with others.
As adults, we must now create those environments our selves.
Sometimes that is about working on something beyond a sense of “ease”. In this way, “ease” and “fun” are not synonymous with play.
But a calm flow of thought and engagement is quite reminiscent of play. Simply pay attention to a toddler in deep focus and you can see the same gentle smile across the face of a master in their craft.
Sometimes play requires time away. It often requires reflection, in which agency is born. We require agency, that part of us that makes us human, that allows us to direct ourselves in solid decision, in order to guide our natural playful selves into the whatever work we deem meaningful.
This is the work of mastery.
Productivity, if we are to consider it as a synonym to efficiency, is only a tool, sometimes used and sometimes not, somewhere along the path.
- Heck, one of my courses is titled “Being Productive”, which maybe I ought to change. ↩