I used to be one who wanted to “hack” my way through productivity.

If I woke up earlier, I’d have more time to get things done. If I did tasks in 20-min chunks, I’d find that creative flow. If I planned my day out in the morning and then recapped my day at EOD, I’d know what to do.

When I worked in an office, productivity was examined through several different numbers and equations that removed all human components. It didn’t matter if maybe someone was sick one day or maybe one task was significantly more difficult than another – the number still came out to one.

Plus, it’s a product of culture and capitalism that drills how important it is that you be productive. If you don’t fill every minute of your day doing something, you’re wasting time! Or so I believed.

“Now we casually ask individual knowledge workers to undertake similarly complex optimizations of their own proverbial factories, and to do it concurrently with actually executing all the work they’re attempting to streamline,” writes Cal Newport in a New Yorker article about productivity. “Even more troubling is the psychological impact of individualizing these improvements.”

A few months into the pandemic, I tried out a new thing. I was going to take a long lunch break. It was either going to be a long walk at a dog park that happens to have trails and a small lake or in nearby Golden Gate Park. This served a dual purpose: Zoey got her exercise in and I got the benefits of both exercise and being in nature. Taking the time out of the workday actually made me better at work. I was able to think through problems on the walk or clear my head so I could come back refreshed.

I know that being productive means different things to different people and that an hourly worker would have a different perspective on it than a salaried one.

What I wish for is for companies to take a look at what being productive actually means. Is it checking off tasks? Is it providing tools to more easily check off said tasks? And then what you, as an individual, define as being productive. Is it an internal yardstick that needs to be snapped? Do you count doing nothing as being productive?

I’d love to do nothing for several weeks but unfortunately, doing that for so long would not help me pay my rent. Instead, I make do by creating my own toolkit (like my long lunch walks and doing jigsaw puzzles) to help me be more “productive.”