Fuck the Cult of Productivity

Do less. Be more. Fuck everything else.

Joan Westenberg
6 min readMar 18, 2024

My alarm jolted me awake at 5 am.

Like every morning. I rubbed my eyes, already feeling the weight of the day pressing down on me. I had a meeting at 7:30, a project deadline at noon, and a seemingly endless stream of meetings that could have been emails and messages and emails and messages that the authors could reasonably have kept to their fucking selves.

As I stumbled into the kitchen to make my morning coffee, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the bedroom mirror. The person staring back at me looked exhausted, stressed, and empty.

When did I become this person? When did my life become so consumed by the constant need to be productive, to achieve, to do more? I thought back to a time when I was younger when life seemed simpler and more joyful. I remembered long summer days spent exploring the bush behind our house, getting lost in books, and dreaming about the future. I remembered feeling a sense of wonder and possibility, a belief that life was full of adventure and meaning.

But somewhere along the way, those feelings got lost. They were replaced by a nagging sense of anxiety, a constant pressure to keep up and stay ahead. I bought into the idea that success meant being busy and that my worth was measured by how much I could accomplish in a day. And now, standing in my kitchen at 6 am, I realized just how much that mindset had cost me.

I’m not alone in this. So many of us are caught in the same trap, chasing an ideal of productivity that seems to always be just out of reach.

We wear our busyness like a badge of honour as if being constantly stressed and overworked is something to be proud of.

We live in a world that worships at the altar of productivity. From the moment we wake up to the sound of our alarm clocks, to the final emails we send before collapsing into bed, we are caught in an endless cycle of tasks, deadlines, and expectations.

We are told that success means doing more, achieving more, and being more efficient. But this shitty sidequest, this hamster wheel, this relentless pursuit of productivity is making us less human. It’s making us less happy. And it’s making us less…well, us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’m in a liminal space. Between projects. Between jobs. Between callings. Some of my days are anxiety-fueled productivity hellholes. Some of them are almost distressingly empty.

I find myself increasingly estranged from the whirlwind of modern life. I’m trained and conditioned to wake up early, gulp down my coffee, and spend my days bouncing between meetings, emails, and projects. I feel like my days are utterly wasted, if I’m not always running, always trying to keep up, always striving to be more productive. Even if at the end of the day, I’m emptier than when I started.

It’s not just me. I see the same exhaustion and frustration in the faces of my colleagues, my friends, the folks I spend 90% of my time around. We’re all caught in the same trap, chasing an ideal of productivity that seems to always be just out of reach. And in the process, we’re losing touch with the things that make us truly human — our creativity, our empathy, our ability to connect with others.

The truth is, that the cult of productivity is a lie. It tells us that our worth is measured by how much we can accomplish in a day, and by how many items we can check off our to-do lists. But life is so much more than a series of tasks to be completed. It’s about the moments of joy and connection that we experience along the way, the laughter shared with friends, the quiet moments of reflection and introspection.

When we’re so focused on being productive, we lose sight of what matters. We become disconnected from ourselves and each other. We forget how to simply be present in the moment, how to savour the beauty and richness of life. In the end, we find ourselves feeling desolate and unfulfilled, despite any and all that we’ve achieved. And then what happens? We look to Instagram gurus, yoga teachers and motivational speakers for that missing spark, and they sell us another solution, which adds more to our to-do list. When we inevitably fail to “live, laugh, love” we go into a downward spiral of self-loathing and feelings of uselessness and regret.

So how do we break free from the productivity cult?

That’s a tough one.

I’m struck by the idea that the cult of productivity is not just a personal struggle, it’s a societal one. We’ve created a social infrastructure and culture that values efficiency and output above all else, and it’s killing us.

Breaking free from the cult of productivity is going to take all of us, not one or some of us. It takes a fundamental shift in our values and priorities as a society, creating a world that values connection, creativity, and meaning over blind efficiency and endless growth.

On a personal level, it starts with changing our mindset. It’s up to all of us to recognize that our worth is not defined by our output. It is always present and always defended by our inherent value as human beings. I know it’s a damn cliche to claim we need to prioritize self-care, rest, and relaxation when these are sold to us as luxuries instead of necessities for our well-being. But we do need to make time for the things that bring us joy and fulfilment, even if they don’t fit into the narrow confines of what society deems “productive.”

This doesn’t mean abandoning all structure and discipline in our lives. There is value in setting goals, working hard, and achieving things that are important to us. But there is a balance to be found in recognizing that productivity is just one aspect of a life well lived.

Reclaiming our humanity in a world obsessed with productivity requires a degree of courage and intentionality that I often doubt I possess. It means being willing to step outside the norm, to question the assumptions that have been ingrained in us since childhood. It means cultivating a sense of mindfulness and presence, even in the middle of the chaos and distractions of modern life. It means building a culture that values people over profits, connection over competition, and meaning over metrics.

None of this is easy. The pull of productivity is strong, and the pressures of modern life are real. But I believe that the fight is worth it. Because when we reclaim our humanity, when we prioritize the things that truly matter, we open ourselves up to a world of possibility and fulfilment that goes far beyond the narrow confines of the productivity trap.

I want to tell you to start today. I want to tell you I’m going to start today. That I’m going to shut down my laptop, take a deep breath, step back from the endless to-do lists, and reconnect with what makes me a Goddamn human. But that’s not going to happen — not right away. I think the only path out of the shitshow of productivity obsession is a slow, ponderous and iterative one. Even a small change today is enough. You don’t need to announce that you’re a brand new person. You don’t need to have an epiphany. You can just turn off your phone at 5pm and see what the fuck happens. You never know. That might be enough. I’ll try it and let you know.