Productivity Mindset

Hello there! Those of us at the Humanist League hope you are finding peace and moments of light during this time. What a wonderful discussion last week about the meaning of community during this time of social distancing, and ways to remain grounded and perhaps use this time as a period of self-reflection.

For our upcoming discussion on Monday, April 6th, we will together reflect upon the value of the productivity mindset. It seems like there are calls everywhere to optimize our own labor. We can see this during this specific time, with instagram posts like “Shakespeare wrote King Lear under quarantine”, and more generally the popularity of self books which focused on how to become more efficient.

Productivity has been a word used for a couple hundred years. The history of the word productivity is interesting: according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word meaning as we know it today originates from 1809, and its meaning in “economic sense of ‘rate of output per unit’ is from 1899. The history of the word productive is from the 1610’s, indirectly from Latin productivus “fit for production”; that of produce is “from Latin producere, to ‘lead or bring forth, draw out’. The sense of “bring into being” is first recorded 1510s”.

Are the economic contexts which created the word “productive” the same ones that cause it to be commonly idealized (or is this an overly simplistic argument)? Are we what we do and what we make? If not, then how do we define who we are? Do the values of presence and productivity conflict, or could they reinforce each other? When is it helpful to focus on productivity, and are there times when it isn’t?