Time management tools can mask being overworked

Author says productivity is counterproductive.

Author says productivity is counterproductive.

Melissa Gregg, the author of Counterproductive, says that time management responsibility is moving from managers to workers. (Shivmirthyu)

This story was originally published on Nov. 23, 2018.

Today's time management tips and personal productivity apps are supposed to help us stay efficient amid the onslaught of work emails, Slack channel discussions, customer relations on social media, and accomplishing our actual jobs. 

Melissa Gregg is a principal engineer and research director at Intel, and author of Counterproductive

But at a time when the line between work and leisure is hard to maintain, they shift the burden of dealing with workload to the individual, and away from a collective conversation about work-life balance.

So argues Melissa Gregg in her new book, Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy

The roots of time management are often traced back to Frederick Winslow Taylor's 'scientific management': measuring and systematizing movements on the factory floor. Gregg, however found examples early in the last century, of the way middle class women in the U.S. were encouraged to run their homes, in order to save time and minimize unnecessary movement.

"That was partly a response to the increased temptation for middle class women to maybe start working outside the home," she told Spark host Nora Young. "There was an intense tension happening there between your class status, and your ability to become an efficient manager of the domestic household."

From early on, athletic and coaching metaphors emerged to describe how to motivate and improve workers' performance. 

There was a moment, mid-century, where people did think there was a finite end to the day: the nine-to-five.- Melissa Gregg

"The thing that happens in the factory environment, then, is that it becomes a way for management thinking to really start to encourage that individual competitive behaviour between the interests of the enterprise, sometimes against the interest of the workers themselves," Gregg said.

Counterproductive looks back at a century of time management and productivity advice

For workers, managing workload and personal productivity has increasingly become a personal responsibility, and that sense of competition is part of that change.

Today, many people's work involves dealing efficiently with information, rather than more physical skills, and the line between work and private life is fuzzy. "There was a moment, mid-century, where people did think there was a finite end to the day: the nine-to-five," Gregg said. 

"But now it does seem as though we are trying to apply older systems to a workplace that doesn't really suit that condition anymore. So, the proliferation of digital technologies and information overload that people are dealing with, is really kind of a reflection of how we haven't updated that system for productivity." 


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