I have some thoughts on productivity. The number one is: productivity is important. I get that there’s a toxic way to do productivity, and that there’s even “productivity porn”, but these are all detractors from a general idea which is - good. It’s good to be productive.

If you’re trying to achieve something, it’s better to achieve it by spending less time, less money, and less energy. If you’re building a fence, there’s no benefit in building it in five months if you could do it in five weeks (all else being equal). There’s a sneering type of view of productivity where it’s like “oh well if you’re more productive, then you’ll just get more work piled on top”. That may be true, but it depends entirely on the context.

If you work for a company, and your manager sees that you are productive, you might end up with more work. In an ideal world, you would get a better compensation as well, but compensation changes have their own schedule, while workload follows another schedule. That’s how people end up in situations where they’re waiting for a pay bump month after month, despite having significantly higher productivity than they might have had before. So in a corporate environment, productivity - at least overt productivity - may be punished, instead of rewarded.

But if you’re working for yourself or doing work on some personal project, then productivity is awesome and you should pursue it. It isn’t all about the destination, but it isn’t all about the journey either. Why not enjoy the journey, but also make it optimized? Besides, not all journeys are meant to be enjoyed.

Criticism of this type of productivity is still: well, you’ll just add more work if you increase your productivity. That may be the case, but there are two different dimensions to work. There’s rate of completion, and then there’s time allocated. These two are independent, but productivity improves them both. You could be more productive, and allocate less time (which means that you have more free time that you explicitly don’t allocate to more work). Or you could be more productive, and increase the rate of completion (you work the same amount of time, but you get more work done in that time).

In other words, if you’re productive, you have a chance of having more free time or completing your project sooner. But if you’re not productive, you don’t have that chance. In the first case, you can explicitly increase your working hours by taking on bigger projects, but in the second case, you’re already working at your maximum by default. Productivity doesn’t guarantee slack, but it at least offers a way to it. Non-productivity guarantees that you won’t have slack.

Increasing productivity is important, and there are many ways to do so. One of them is using better tools. If you have a hammer and nails, you work at some rate. But if you have a nail gun, this rate of work is significantly increased. Other people can also be considered “tools” in this sense. A carpenter doing work for you might increase the speed of building something (or speed and quality). Depending on your situation, it may or may not be a good idea to use that type of tool (sometimes the investment is too much, and the returns are too small).

But looking to optimize work is valuable. There’s also a sense in which you need to decide which specific thing you could do best - or, more specifically, which thing will give you the greatest returns on your investments. Let’s say that you have tasks A and B, and you can do both better than somebody you could hire. But you can do A much better than B, so you hire someone to do B, despite them being worse at B than you are. You have work around A, and the returns on that work are greater than if you did B, or split your time between A and B. And these returns also include the costs of hiring someone else to do B.

There’s one final thing. Using a tool or a system to improve productivity has two layers. One is the surface layer - the promise. The promise is: this tool (or system, or person) will improve your productivity by 2x. Maybe they do it in half the time, or for half the cost. But then there’s is the realistic layer, which is that using tools also costs resources. On the surface, it might seem a good idea that renting a power tool will give you 2x the productivity, but when you include the cost of driving to the place that rents tools, the organizational efforts around that, the coordination with external factors (e.g. appropriate weather for the use of such a tool) and so on, the actual level of productivity gains drops, maybe to 1.5x. That’s still 1.5x better than you would have otherwise done!

In practice, I’ve seen this with contractors doing work on my house. At first, it seems that you just specify the task, and then the task is done. But what usually happens is that you specify a task, but then need to coordinate with that person, and that person doesn’t fix the issue right away. Then you start researching, learning about electrical systems, or plumbing, or tiling, or whatever. You gain some level of proficiency in that, you start to understand the field. You start thinking - maybe I should just do it myself if I’m already forced to go so deep into this topic. That’s a mistake! It’s cool to learn new things, but just because your productivity multiplier isn’t as big as you want, it doesn’t mean it isn’t bigger in absolute terms. That is, maybe the contractor won’t do good work without supervision, additional coordination, negotiations about pay, you learning about their field, etc. But they might still do better work than if you yourself took to doing the task!

Naturally this all depends but it’s often a mistake to say “I’ll just do it myself”. The “just” part is wrong - it’s never “just”. There’s a lot of issues that crop up, and even if the tool, system, or person that you’re relying on as a productivity multiplier isn’t a 10xer, they might still be a 2xer, while you’re probably a 1xer.