Blog
/
Have we forgotten why we work?
Have we forgotten why we work?

Have we forgotten why we work?

Productivity was once a very simple idea, but in 2023 many have lost sight of that idea. We have forgotten why we work.

You’ve probably heard it before. The world has changed a lot in the last few years, particularly in the corporate and digital domains of life. The pandemic worked as a catalyst in normalising remote and hybrid work, we’ve seen AI and a whole plethora of new software and platforms break into the scene and rise to the levels of tech giants like Google and Adobe. People are adopting and utilising new technologies and tools.

There's been a lot of positive, transformative change in the way we work. But something else can be seen in all that’s happened - not just since 2020 - but slowly the noise has been building, and it has lain waste to one very important thing. It is this: we forgot why we work.

Productivity has taken a new shape and form online as a movement, one less about our thoughts and behaviours and more about quantity and configuration. What was once a very simple idea is now something paradoxical in nature. Here at TR, our interest in digital productivity and tech stacking is not to be mistaken for a hobby or a passion. It is to help you achieve something put very simply by Dieter Rams back in 1995:

Less, but better.

As humans we crave purpose, we will always give ourselves something to work toward. For this we design a series of steps and methods we will take in order to achieve or fulfil that purpose. But in 2023, productivity for many has contorted into something toxic.

If this is an idea you’ve come across before, you have likely seen or heard of Cal Newport’s work. If you haven’t, you should absolutely click here. Across his work Cal spotlights one invaluable lesson: What was once a means to an end, cannot become the end itself.

Productivity is meant to be a means to an end. Utilising your time, thought, talent and - in 2023’s case - technology, so that you can produce better results in a shorter amount of time. You’re probably familiar with an age old idea, one that has perpetuated this problem for as long as our corporate world has prevailed:

If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.

This drove a ubiquitous doctrine in the 21st century, one that came with stories of startups born in basements with nothing but a few borrowed dollars and a feverish passion. Tech founders reached a level of celebrity and we realised the uncapped potential of the world wide web.

This wasn’t a bad thing, it sparked an independence and creativity in a previously rigid and challenging climb up the corporate ladder. We realised we didn’t have to climb anyone else’s, we could make our own.

The dream of becoming a CEO became the dream of becoming a successful founder. And as this idea snowballed, it gave birth to what we now can recognise as ‘hustle culture’.  Cult-like promises of dream-following and passion-rearing work can be seen in an alarming number of job listings, one I most recently came across stated “you must love work as much as we do”.

Believers of this idea are not wrong to do so. The idea of abandoning the 9-5 and working on your own terms, on something you feel passionate about is more an achievable idea than ever before. But more and more as we begin these endeavours we are willing to make deleterious sacrifice in our personal lives. And much too often, we cannot see our ideas through to success.

Even more, this productivity doctrine can and has been weaponised into something of a manipulation tactic: it has allowed corporations - CEOs and founders and everything in between - the belief that their employees want to see out their goals and success in business as much as they do. It has validated the seeping of work into every other domain of our lives.


And so begun the productivity frenzy, a toxic cycle of hustle and burnout. A once valid expectation that in work is joy, passion and a place where we find meaning, that has warped and bent us out of shape in our lives outside of a professional environment. We are afraid of being useless.

Utility and success are our measures of worth in the modern Western world. Many of us struggle to sit on the couch - to simply do nothing - without the compounding sensation of doom and guilt for our laziness. If it is not to work, it’s to exercise, to see friends, sometimes to listen to self-help podcasts or read philosophical novels to learn how we can be better at relaxing.

Zhuangzi was an ancient Daoist philosopher from 4th century BCE. In his work The Inner Chapters is a profoundly important message for a society inflicted with the burden of utility and productivity. He emphasises the importance of something that we have shunned:

Uselessness.

Zhuangzi tells the story of a useless oak tree. One day, a carpenter and his apprentice come across this tree, one of imposing height with crooked branches, and describe it’s branches as (translated by Brook Ziporyn) “too twisted and gnarled to be used for beams or pillars... too splotched and split to be used for a coffin.”

Later that night the oak tree comes to the carpenter in a dream and asks him “What do you want to compare me to, one of those cultivated trees? Thus do their abilities embitter their lives…They batter themselves with the vulgar conventions of the world.”

The oak tree in Zhuangzi’s story reminds us of something very important. It lived long, it became beautifully crooked and strikingly tall because it concerned itself only with the simple beauty of survival, not with utility, like that of cultivated trees who’s lives were short and unspectacular as a result.

And so it is for us, our lives will feel short and unspectacular at the end of the road if we concern ourselves only with utility and productivity. There is much to be said for the simple beauty of survival. Author Dr. Ali Binazir took the time to calculate the chances of existing and found it to be about as close to zero as you can get.

Yet, when you look at time, at the galaxies and universe and everything beyond, you, me, we are all entirely insignificant. This gives us a unique perspective. Because we are so insignificant, but yet because we are so lucky to exist, every person and every moment of a person’s life is precious. And we forget that.

When you think about yourself as this tiny miracle, what do you want it to mean? How do you want to use this time? When we start your day at work, we should consider this idea. Because it is here we can design how we work to be less, but better.

Productivity can mean something more important than what it has become. We can utilise technology to produce better results in a shorter amount of time, so that we can return to enjoying the very privilege of being able to exist.

No items found.