Why is there such a proliferation of productivity writers? (And am I one of them?)

(This article was partly inspired by this great article about the proliferation of the same types of stories.)

Maybe I need to tweak my Medium follows or start rabbit-holing in different places. Perhaps it’s just my imagination, or maybe there’s some sort of subconscious competitiveness stirring within me, but…

Aren’t there a lot of productivity writers popping up lately? (Or their cousins, the writers/bloggers who write about writing/blogging.)

This is the general narrative theme:

  1. I didn’t particularly like my previous career/life/habits.
  2. I had an epiphany.
  3. I made a change.
  4. I realized that I can turn my epiphany outward and help others make change.
  5. I am recruiting others to join me on my journey! I am building a community!

This is how I imagine the thought process actually went:

  1. Ugh, this sucks.
  2. I don’t want this to suck anymore. I should Google around to see what others in this boat have done.
  3. I can do this too!
  4. I can do what those people did too!
  5. They all say to make a mailing list. This guy says if I only get 100,000 e-mail addresses, I can get a book deal and a sweet advance! This gal tells me exactly how to write my article headlines for the most reads. This couldn’t be easier!

Perhaps this analogy is a stretch, but in some ways, these dynamics play out like a pyramid scheme. Of course, there’s no one directing this so it’s not really a “scheme” (although in some cases…), but there’s an Invisible Hand at work for sure.

So, who the heck am I to make the above statements?

I’m someone who has flirted with some of the above: I didn’t like my trajectory, I changed it, and I like to write about it. Oh, and my book costs money, and I am considering making an online course on productivity and such.

I am dangerously close to the productivity writer that this article is aimed it… and I might even be that writer.

I just shuddered.

With that important caveat made, here’s why I think there’s such a proliferation (by extension these reasons apply to me too):

Writing about productivity is easier than actually being productive.

We’re immersed in our productivity, even when we write about productivity. If we’re vaguely self-aware, we can observe ourselves and write about what we see. It’s easier than creating something.

Writing about writing is easier than actually writing.

There are several authors on Amazon who have transitioned from writing works of fiction or general non-fiction into writing works about writing works of fiction or general non-fiction. Why? Because it’s easier (and maybe it sells better, I don’t know.)

Writing about productivity and/or writing about writing feels productive.

Someone might read this and it might change their world! Look, I wrote something! Writing is what I do. It’s inherently productive. I’m productive!

When others perceive us as a guru, we feel like a guru.

It’s so much easier when others perceive us as great because we needn’t ask ourselves tough questions. It’s usually only when we sense that others do not perceive us as great that we start looking within. This is dangerous.

An identity as a writer of productivity or writer of writing is a wonderful way to productively procrastinate.

Most people get things done via “productive procrastination.” There’s often one (or several) things we don’t want to do, so we do everything but. Used mindfully, this is a great productivity technique. But without self-awareness, it’s a mask. It’s a delusion. And worst of all: It allows us to hide in plain sight as a productive person when we’re actually neglecting our innermost aspirations.

OK, smartass, what’s the solution?

I don’t know. But here are two rules that guide my thinking as a productivity “producer” and “consumer.”

Look for systems, not people.

The stories of productive people are very interesting, and they can be very helpful in illustrating how various principles and concepts are applied. But they should be there to serve as examples — means to an end, not means unto themselves.

Systems are far more valuable takeaways than “here’s what I realized this morning as I tried to write this sentence that I am now writing.”

As a general rule, don’t subscribe to mailing lists.

It’s so easy to type in our e-mail address and it’s rewarding to get some neat freebie in the mail. I’m already subscribed to 572 lists, what’s one more? I might really benefit from this one!

But, with few exceptions, mailing lists are a raw deal. Having a blog e-mailed to you is one thing, as are one-and-done lists that serve some purpose (like an e-mail course or such.)

With permanent lists, you’re there to bolster a number and to become the sought-after repeat customer. Will you get some “freebies?” To be sure.

But are they worth your precious resources?

In a few cases, maybe. But overall, no. And the chances of a list being the former are so small that it’s not worth subscribing to find out.


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