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The productivity trap

Ángel Marroquín

To have all your emails answered, start a new project, get good grades or have your to-do list finally done. Well done. Pat yourself on the back. Welcome to the productivity trap.


Because it is not true, and you know it. Those annoying emails will never stop arriving, new projects are often old ideas in disguise, and the to-do list is never finished. We know it, but still, we yearn to reach that moment when we will be free from the desire to produce and meet targets. Sisyphus must have thought the same while he was reaching the top of the hill.

Productivity means wanting more, and being productive means living in the service of that belief. The productivity drive, like COVID 19, acts like a virus: when it is outside, it is invisible and harmless. But when it manages to enter an unprepared host, it does not rest until it is done with them. The virus acts laboriously 24 hours a day, seven days a week and in a short time manages to make of a person someone totally focused on the benefit, the profitability and the cost of their actions. It is as if Sisyphus were in a hurry to carry as many rocks as possible in the shortest time possible, only to see them fall faster to take them back to the top. Usually, a virus does not rest until its host kicks the bucket.

Western societies boast of having killed God, but they have put productivity and money in their place. Here, we have heaven and hell as well: productivity is often displayed in the glamorous form of a high-ranking powerful feminist executive (another trap, another liberal mirage); but somewhere hidden from us, there is a chronometer that determines how fast someone must chop a piece of meat, fill a shelf with cheese, fruit or shampoo, make a hotel bed, or pack ready to eat strawberries. This chronometer marks the productivity of the precarious and poorly paid jobs that keep old Europe going.

Today the alarms are ringing in the mental health section of some companies. Stressed, anxious, or depressed employees are not productive. As a result, it is not uncommon to find posters offering psychological help to workers above the device that clocks in and out of work shifts. We are no longer talking about motivating them and making them reach their potential but simply trying to prevent them from collapsing or committing suicide during their workday.

Perhaps the time has come to reserve the right to be productive for unprofitable things: raising a family, planting a tree, fighting for the future of children, or writing a book. Tasks that cannot be instrumentalized or controlled by any management section.

As human beings, we are meant to be creative and free and not carry stones in a meaningless world, no matter how much the ads want us to believe it.

(c) Photography by Sebastián Silva.





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