Productivity Culture is Efficiently Killing Us

A Frog Doesn’t Know When It’s Slowly Being Boiled Alive. Do You?


“The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.” — Wiki

What if we are that frog and the boiling water is the constant push to be more productive? Look around and look at yourself — are we doing it to ourselves?
Politics is proving to be a good example for many points these days. Would you have guessed the news would be so dominated by constantly by the activities of the POTUS? How about when we think about who we were a few years ago? Have we increased our productivity but lowered our happiness?

Hustle Culture

Hustle culture “is strongly associated with a version of feminism that is itself highly individualistic and insufficiently questioning of power structures that leave many more people out than they benefit,” according to Juliette O’Brien, journalist and best-selling author. [1]

Peter Bloom, a lecturer in UK’s Open University, adds, “The contemporary neoliberal mindset is particularly dangerous. It puts the responsibility for success squarely on the shoulders of individuals. This is unjust, and also very risky. Deeper structural issues are overlooked in the name of emphasizing personal accountability.” [2]

Takeaway: Hustle culture unfairly and overly expects too much of the individual. We live with others, not like a hermit in the woods. Therefore, focus more on others and achieve more. #collaboration


Yesterday’s Buzzwords: #hustle #grit #slay #riseandgrind

I was debating with a friend, asserting that the United States is still viewed around the world as the place where dreams come true with hard work. With “grit”, anything is possible. We also know there are structural challenges for some to achieve that dream (demographics like race and income level), yet to the outside world the United States is still leaps and bounds better. I believe this is why despite the anti-immigration philosophy of this current administration, people around the world still want to come here.

I believe the dream is still achievable. But maybe not in the way we’ve been brought up believing.

The American Dream is still alive and well, just “repackaged for this generation.” O’Brien, journalist and author, compares our quest for success with the character Jay Gatsby from the Great Gatsby. The desire to climb the social and wealth ladder is still as strong as ever, except these days we telework and constantly check our emails or status on our phone. We tell ourselves we have to keep our social media game high (Likes, Followers) and we fall for clickbait headlines that offer “magic-bullet solutions.”

This is called “hustle porn,” a term coined by Ohanian, cofounder of Reddit. In an interview, he jokes people who are actually working hard are too busy make post with hashtags like #WerkWerkWerk, #Hustle, #slay, #grit, #werk, #riseandgrind!

The takeaway is that the dream is still worth pursuing, but you need to question the “rat race” structure of it all. Do it on your terms, or face consequences like:

  • European Heart Journal found that men who worked more than 55 hours per week had increased cardiovascular problems, which increases the chances of a stroke by 500%. [10]
  • According to a 2017 study by Project Time Off, more than half of Americans (54%) are leaving paid time off on the table. [10]


Are You Highly Productive or a Poser?

Elon Musk is like a real-life version of Tony Stark, and he smokes weed. Tim Ferris, famous for deconstructing productivity, experiments with psychedelic drugs, or “smart drugs” as he calls them. I want to question, when we can’t turn off our brains, why do people turn to extremes to either cope or to further stimulate their mental state.

To most of us, this is a far fetch but we should use these examples like a wind vane on where the productivity culture is going. How far are you willing to go?

Below is a checklist of traits found to be super-productive people. I present this checklist as a gauge but also to also say, it’s ok if we’re not doing it all. Be ok with trying & learning, but maybe never checking every single box. Remind yourself, we stay productive to get more out of life and ultimately, to live smarter.

A Harvard study identified the specific behaviors that were correlated with high levels of productivity. Seven consistent clusters emerged [5]:

  • Set stretch goals. “There is some great magic that occurs when people become riveted by the thought of achieving a stretch goal.”
  • Show consistency. “There was a cadence and a rhythm to their work that seemed to keep them going.”
  • Have knowledge and technical expertise. “The most productive professionals in our study didn’t hesitate to ask for help when they needed it…but they didn’t need it that often.”
  • Drive for results. “They’re competitive — and they compete not only with their colleagues but also with themselves.”
  • Anticipate and solve problems. “Mental contrasting — thinking about what you want to achieve and what might get in the way of your achieving it.”
  • Take initiative. “They ask for forgiveness, not permission.”
  • Be collaborative. “They didn’t have to spend a lot of time soothing ruffled feathers, because they didn’t ruffle many feathers in the first place.”


Productive People are Stuck. Here’s Why.

It’s January and how are we doing with our New Year’s goal (or any goal)? If you’ve stumbled, don’t be too hard on yourself. In fact, only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goal.

It’s never too late to reframe what it means to be a highly productive person, why it’s important, and therefore what our goals mean to us. That’s because I believe the current culture of productivity is stuck in a rut, and the only way to get unstuck is to reframe how we view success.

First, ask yourself, how do you define a highly productive person. If we peel back the onion one layer, I bet what we desire are actually:

  • Strong sense of purpose in life
  • Being great at something (i.e. master skill)
  • Appreciation and respect

Not on this list are fame, money, looks, nor running ragged until we pass out (see Ariana Huffington’s story).

I believe folks in the current culture of being uber-productive and seeking “hustle porn” are feeling stuck because they don’t know how to squeeze out any more minutes in a day. They already feel stressed at juggling so many balls, barely being successful (if at all), but yet they look around and see others having it all.

To overcome the productivity stalemate, I’ve taken Gino’s advice, a behavioral scientist and Professor at the Harvard Business School, and tweaked it to: [4]

  1. Increase your control (or let go of the illusion of control) — Either way you win.
  2. Be more authentic — Stop giving a shit about Likes and Followers, instead post & say what you want.
  3. Rituals help — Morning rituals, evening rituals, rituals for everything! And then break them to keep your brain uncomfortable. 😉


  1. Is Hustle Culture Actually Hurting Us? by Juliette O’Brien
  2. The risk of prioritizing productivity over everything else by Peter Bloom
  3. Is the productivity drive hurting employers as well as employees? by Peter Bloom and Caroline Clarke
  4. Are You Too Stressed to Be Productive? Or Not Stressed Enough? by Francesca Gino
  5. 7 Traits of Super-Productive People by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
  6. When Too Much Productivity is Bad by Paula Rizzo
  7. The productivity myth: How modern companies are getting work wrong by Ben Taylor
  8. Post-productivity: Building a better way to work by Ben Taylor
  9. I used to believe in hustle porn, and now I think it’s the antithesis of the American Dream by Carlos Hidalgo
  10. Reddit’s co-founder talks about the danger of ‘hustle porn’ by CNBC
  11. New Year’s resolutions last exactly this long by Shireen Khalil,

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: