The Joy of Being (Slightly) Less Productive


“From what I can see, one of the themes of your blog is productivity.”

The speaker was a friend, someone I respect. Her words surprised me. Productivity? No! I want to “help people grow in life and ministry for God’s glory, our joy, and the good of others.” At least that’s what I’d written for the purpose of this website. Productivity seemed like much too small a goal.

And yet she was right. I was, at that time, posting a lot about how to make the best use of our time. It’s a fine topic, one that we must all think about. It reflects my own tendency: I want to get a lot done, and I focus on tasks. It also reflects my own struggles: my tasks always spill into the next day.

But growing in life and ministry is about more than being productive. It’s about knowing when being less productive and efficient is better.

The Problem With Productivity

The problem with productivity is that it often fills our lives with more busyness. We’re often told “to do more. Get more done. Be more efficient. Set more goals and make more plans. It’s the only way to fit those important moments into your life,” write Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky in their excellent book Make Time.

The problem? “Doing more doesn’t help you create time for what matters; it just makes you feel even more frazzled and busy,” write Knapp and Zeratsky. “And when you’re busy day after day, time slides by in a blur.”

Productivity can become, as the title of a recent book implies, counterproductive. Sometimes the approach is to not get more things done, finishing our tasks faster, or outsourcing and optimizing our lives. We’re not machines. Constant busyness is not the way to live well.

Two Correctives

I’ve found two correctives helpful in my own life.

Relationships > Tasks

If you tend to spend a lot of time relating, you may need to shift the balance the other way. But I need this reminder. I need to make time for the important relationships in my life. I also need to realize that all the tasks have relationships as their goal.

Time spent loving is not unproductive time. Yes, we still need to get work done, but not at the expense of loving well. We need to purposely build time in our calendars that looks inefficient because people are inefficient, and see this as time well spent.

Doing Less > Doing a Lot

According to a five-year study, the greatest practice associated with great performance is to “do less, then obsess.” Choose few priorities, and then dedicate your efforts to excelling at them.

Morten Hansen writes, “Top performers collaborate less. They carefully choose which projects and tasks to join and which to flee, and they channel their efforts and resources to excel in the few chosen ones.” The result is “better work-life balance, higher job satisfaction, and less burnout.”

As Greg McKeown writes in his book Essentialism, it’s about not about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting the right things done, “making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

My Resolve

I don’t have many resolutions for 2021. But I guess I have one: to stop trying to be so productive. I want to fight my temptation to get more done quicker, instead focusing on loving the people around me, choosing the few activities that matter, and then doing them well.

I’m quitting the cult of productivity, but I may relapse. Pray for me. Even better, join me. I need all the company I can get.

The Joy of Being (Slightly) Less Productive
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada