The Sunday Magazine

Why we need to rethink our obsession with being more productive

The gospel of productivity would have us believe that, through better time management, we'll be able to accomplish more, and be happier and more successful as a result. Brad Aeon, who specializes in time management at Concordia University, says we should think again.
Overachievers are setting an impossible standard for what the average member of society can do in a day, says time management researcher Brad Aeon. (Shutterstock/Diego Cervo)

Originally published on Nov. 16, 2018.

Brad Aeon was still a kid when he thought about death — or more accurately, what he would do with his life until he died.

"If it's true that we're going to die eventually ... why do we work?" he wondered.

These days he works (20 hours a week, thank you very much) as a researcher at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University, where he specializes in time management.

Aeon says our society is obsessed with being more productive — and it's not good for us.

Brad Aeon wants to experience as much of his life as he can so he prioritizes his leisure time over his work output. He limits his work week to 20 hours. (Submitted by Brad Aeon)

"We tend to judge other people and their status by the number of hours of work they put in every week," he told The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright.

Work 80 hours a week? You're a good person. Work 20 or less? You're a slacker.

According to Aeon, overachievers are setting the standard for what the average member of society can do in a day.

"They're unrealistic because often those people are wealthy, they're privileged," Aeon said. They also have access to conveniences that free up their time, like nannies and Uber.

Brad Aeon's rules:

  1. Don't use time management as an excuse to be greedy with your time or rude to other people. 
  3. Prioritize your leisure time. While most people do it the other way around, Aeon is strict about limiting his work hours to 20. "I want to experience as much of life as I can," he explained.
  5. Be clear about your boundaries. If people are unhappy about that, the problem is theirs. "If they have expectations that I should be working 80 hours a week, that's their expectations," he said. "I value my sanity and my free time more than I value my work output."


And while the average person might be able to become more productive, there's no incentive. Wages haven't increased to match how much output has skyrocketed.

"Why would you be more productive when your salary is going to remain the same?" he asked.

Guilt, sin and productivity

While doing research about Google search terms, Aeon noticed a trend. Searches about time management often correlated with searches on pornographic websites. He wondered if there's a connection. 

"Most people feel guilty about [searching for porn] because they think it's a terrible use of their time, so they turn to time management as a form of salvation. So to me, this religious element of time management is very concerning," he said.

The morning routines and waking up rituals espoused by productivity gurus feel religious to Aeon.

"There's also this idea of sin. When you're not having a productive day you feel bad and you feel guilty," he said.

Aeon said many people believe if they become more productive and do everything right, they'll finally be happy. But, he warns, productivity is addictive.

"That feeling of being extremely productive, and a lot more productive than other people … it's so good. You want more. You always want more," he said.

"There is no end to the quest for efficiency and time management, meaning you're never going to be satisfied with your current level of productivity."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation. Audio has been edited to exclude some profane language in the original broadcast.


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