Are Productivity Articles Making You Unproductive?

A reaction to an article written by Paul Jarvis, entitled “On becoming digital hoarders.”

Our yearning to find information that will somehow magically fill some void in our life, continually leaves us unsatisfied. We are promised endlessly how to make our lives better, how to be more productive and how to get what we want. I know that’s exactly how I feel after reading any of these types of articles.

But the reality is, and the biggest point I think Paul is making is that at some point, we need to take off the training wheels of acquiring knowledge and ride the bike of applying that knowledge …

In this 11-minute episode I discuss:

  • The universal fascination with list-based articles
  • Our yearning to find “the magical solution”
  • Why inspirational words often fall flat
  • How productivity articles trap us
  • Why life hacks are often just a crutch

The Show Notes

Are Productivity Articles Making You Unproductive?

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Last week I came across an article on Medium written by Paul Jarvis, and it literally stopped me dead in my tracks.

So much that I reached out to him and asked if I could interview him about that very post he wrote. Within minutes we had a call scheduled, and next week you’ll hear what we talked about.

This week, however, I wanted to present a prequel to that call.

I thought it’d be fun for me to go through what he wrote and respond with my own thoughts, even before our call even took place.

In other words, this is my knee-jerk reaction to what he said, and next week he and I will walk through it all.

The Universal Fascination with List-Based Articles

The article he wrote was called “On being digital hoarders.” This article first appeared on his weekly newsletter, The Sunday Dispatches, which you can signup at

We live in a world of tips & tricks, listicles and deep thoughts (in 140 characters or less). This is a world we actively perpetuate by continually showing how eager we all are to consume this type of information. It lures us in with promises of saving time, building better habits, retiring early by working less, etc…

I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated by articles that list out certain things — typically it’s more in a lookie-lou sense — like “Top 10 Most Beautiful Ski Resorts”, but once in a while I’m drawn to one that pulls me in on a deeper level.

Something like “5 Ways You’re Running an Inefficient Online Business.” I love that Paul uses the word “lure” because after all, that’s what the headlines are supposed to do, right?

Our Yearning to Find “the Magical Solution”

He goes on…

Like ravenous dogs, we refresh our feeds — even though we just spent the last 20 minutes reading some life-hacking article. Maybe a new one will appear with even more hacks! We salivate for more, unsatiated by the last.

Ok, so he’s got me again with his choice of words — such as “refresh” and “unsatiated.”

After all, isn’t that what social media is all about? Our yearning to find information that will give to us and somehow magically fill some void in our life that remains unsatisfied?

We are promised endlessly how to make our lives better, how to be more productive and how to get what we want. I know that’s exactly how I feel after reading any of these.

Why Inspirational Words Often Fall Flat

More from Paul.

Does all this information make us more prone to act? Does it really make us more efficient? Does it move us forward in any significant way? Are our lives better for consuming these optimizations?

More importantly, is the world now a better place, a place where more action is taken and more time is saved, because we’ve got instant access to this hackery?

Ok, now it’s getting deeper, where he’s asking us questions that probe into the way these things make us feel.

For me, anytime I read something inspirational, I’m usually inspired for maybe 30 minutes — which is sometimes long enough for me to concur some sort of action plan, purchase a domain name and get started on a web design.

The problem, however, is that after I check into social media, get on a call or answer a few emails, I’ve already lost that loving feeling.

I’m already onto another idea, or have concocted another plan of attack for pursuing and project that I just thought of.

How Productivity Articles Trap Us

Then Paul asks.

Or, are all of these tips ultimately doing the opposite — simply distracting us?

Think about it. If you’re focused on learning about productivity, you’re not technically productive at all because you’re spending all your time learning about productivity instead of working. What percentage of life hacks do you readily apply to your life and are then much better for it? Do you simply consume these tips because it feels like you’re taking action without having to actually act?

It’s a trap. A perfect trap. And it’s one we’ve all had our foot caught in at some time.

In his article, Paul is very specifically calling out the “productivity” articles, in which he’s identifying that all they do is bring you an immediate sense of action, which typically lead to the search for another similar type of article.

In other words, we are addicts in search of our next fix — not necessarily looking to solve our problem. We’d rather live in the “yes I can” moments of the article, rather than “here’s how I will” moments.

Well sometimes we even get to those moments, but even they aren’t good enough — because saying you will, and actually doing it are two completely different things.

It’s like dieting — every morning when I weigh myself, I see the same number on the scale. Sometimes it’s higher than the day before, but I make the same mistake each and every time.

I hop on the internet, Google some derivative of “how a middle aged man can lose belly fat” and then read a bunch of the results.

It’s like I think I’ll magically lose said belly fat by way of osmosis — that if I spend enough time reading about doing it, it will just happen.

These articles tell me what to eat and how often to exercise, but unless I actually follow the advice — and do it — I’m left with the same results every time I get on the scale.

Paul’s words.

While small wins can certainly be had from optimizing our lives with the help of tips we read online, how many of us are literally working 4-hour work weeks, while simultaneously learning how to overcome every fear we’ve got, and unlocking ultimate happiness?

We’ve somehow put ourselves in a place where “expert” advice in these types of articles holds more weight than it should. It’s become the holy grail, the secret sauce, the one thing we need to learn in order to improve our lives.

I don’t know if there’s any way to truly know this, but how many of these articles are written by people who themselves don’t follow the very advice they are giving?

Nevertheless, I agree with what Paul’s alluding to. He says that they “hold more weight than they should,” and what I think he’s trying to say is that we find ourselves in a discouraged state of mind frequently, and that we are feeble in our own convictions.

After all, if someone is calling out an issue that I find myself struggling with, I must really be in a bad place and need their help, right?

Why Life Hacks Are Often Just a Crutch

Paul continues.

In reality, the act of figuring stuff out for ourselves, becoming less afraid of looking stupid because we’re learning, and actually having little self-reliance in our attempts at greatness can take us much, much further. Not just because hacks on the internet are distracting, but because they’re a crutch.

Bingo. A crutch. Like a drug user needing a fix, we continually live in the inadequacy, so instead of digging deep and intentionally working our problems, we go back to the beginning of the cycle and regurgitate that we do indeed, have a problem and we need help.

Paul’s words.

These hacks circumvent our own innate intelligence in favor of letting some expert who has a way with words have all the power to lead us. Those words could lead us not only around in circles that seem like progress, but they could potentially lead us to doing something in a way that just doesn’t work for how to process information.

More often than not, there’s more than one way to boost your efficiency. Maybe you work best at night (even if experts say “morning people” are more productive). Maybe your path to happiness can’t be backed by science. Maybe the only reason you have anxiety is because your RSS feed has too many unread life-hack articles in it.

In other words, Paul’s saying “different strokes for different folks.” He’s discouraging us from sometimes following expert advice because, let’s face it, how many of these experts truly know us better than we know ourselves.

How does some psychologist, or dietician, or some “insert invented name here type of person” know what’s the best method for us to overcome our struggles?

I think there’s a lot of value to be had from people who’ve extensively studied a certain area — or have a degree in some kind of field — but the reality is, and the biggest point I think Paul is making is that at some point, we need to take off the training wheels of acquiring knowledge and ride the bike of applying that knowledge in our own.

He finishes.

So, next time you see an article on life hackery or some list of actions you could be taking if you weren’t reading a list on taking action — ask yourself why you’re searching externally for advice/shortcuts when you could be working on taking action, in your own way, using your own brilliant mind to figure things out.

You, dear reader, already have all the tools you need to start doing what you want to do. The only thing stopping you is your assumption that what you already know isn’t enough. Challenge this assumption, realize there’s never “knowing enough to start”, and act.

And there you have it. Paul Jarvis on being digital hoarders.

Join us next week as we discuss the article he wrote. It’ll be a great show and I think you’ll enjoy it. We’ve already recorded the call, so I know this to be true.

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