The aesthetic of productivity
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We are constantly bombarded with messages and images about what productivity looks like. It’s sleek, aesthetic, and premium-looking.
The messaging is delivered by people who look like they’re in good shape (but not muscleheads – their real power is their brain), healthy and well-rested, have alarmingly shiny white teeth, live in eerily minimalist homes, and just generally seem to have their lives together.
They have macbooks and iPad Pros, home office set-ups with multiple displays and soft lighting, and are probably into artisan coffee. The men probably have carefully-shaped stubble and sometimes wear glasses; the women have lo-fi music in the background, lots of plants and pastels, and have their hair in ‘careless’ curls.
There will be ‘a now a word from our sponsor, NordVPN’ (*other sponsors exist); icons of various apps and websites in the thumbnail; and links to mentioned products in the description below.
I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to get sucked into it. These videos are like crack. There’s a deep-seated allure to the aesthetic and promise of productivity. Who wouldn’t want their life to look that great? If it looks great, it must feel great too, right?
The thing is, that isn’t real productivity. It’s an aesthetic. It’s important not to get confused between something that looks good and productivity.
There is nothing wrong with liking something because it looks good. It’s nice to have pleasant surroundings and tools that you enjoy looking at and using! As long as you’re spending within your means (!), buy whatever shiny things you like.
You may find that a minimalist working space helps you to concentrate, or that certain apps genuinely help you get things done. Great!
Productivity sometimes looks good and sometimes it doesn’t. It has no direct connection to any aesthetic. Productivity is, quite simply, getting more done in less time. It’s a factory-style equation – nothing else, nothing more. (I have a separate post in the pipeline on how productivity is morally neutral and not necessarily something to aspire to above all else – but that’s not the point of this post.)
There isn’t, actually, a true ‘productivity aesthetic’. Sometimes it’s a thousand apps; sometimes it’s scribbled post-it notes with handwriting indecipherable to anyone other than yourself (or maybe yourself, too). It looks different not only for different people, but also for different times of life.
The important thing is don’t let an aesthetic get in the way of results. Don’t overcomplicate a system because somebody on youtube or twitter sold you a Notion template for sixty quid. Don’t spend so much time tweaking your system that you never actually use it.
Your life won’t become flash and shiny and feel-good just because you have an overly complex – but aesthetic – workflow sold to you by a productivity influencer.