“Productivity and Self-Deception”

“We are like shop-windows, where we ourselves are constantly arranging, concealing, or setting in the fore-ground those supposed qualities which others attribute to us- in order to deceive ourselves.”

~Friedrich Nietzsche

Chasing Motivation and not Productivity:

Every so often we find ourselves chasing motivation and term it as ‘being productive.’ There really is nothing wrong with wanting to stay motivated. To some extent, it is actually important to be motivated at what you do. But, the problem comes up when all we do is chase motivation at the expense of actually being productive.

We tell ourselves that we are being productive but all we are is motivated. We lie to ourselves and others by putting up that “hustler” image on the front, read all the self-help books we come across (reading being all that we do and not actually using what we read in the real life) and sharing every quote we come across in the social media.

We listen to every podcast and watch every video out there that talks about staying on your feet and being motivated all the time. In short, we invest in motivation and not in actual productivity. The effort and investment we thus put in chasing motivation is what we lie about to ourselves and call it productivity.

There is a feeling we get every time we feel like we have accomplished something we believe to be meaningful. This feeling is brought about by the chemical in our body called dopamine that plays a function in motivation and pleasure. Every time we finish reading a self-help book, or post a motivational quote, or do anything we perceive as productive the dopamine makes us feel good about ourselves. We all want that good feeling so we tend to spend too much time seeking to be motivated.

For example, you find yourself staying up watching YouTube videos on how to stay motivated just to get that feeling of “There is nothing I cannot do!” right before going to sleep only to find it difficult to wake up because you were awake for the most part of the night. The day ends up becoming lazy and very far from productive because you are sleep deprived and all the “motivation” you consumed last night is of no use because your mind is too tired to even think.

We convince ourselves that we are putting in the work and that our hard work will pay off. While it is true that we could be working hard, the hard work is directed towards the wrong thing (staying motivated). We may not realize this and we end up spending months or even years seeking motivation instead of actually being productive. We end up believing we are being productive. The results of doing this is therefore the constant confusion and frustration on our part because we wonder why all the hard work we put is not paying off.

Going about it:

a) You don’t have to read all the self-help books out there;-

Take your time and find a few good books, read, and actually put into action whatever you read from there. Spending more money on books that talk about the same things over and over again is obviously not helping. Use that money for other things or better yet save it or invest it.

There is nothing wrong with finding a book to help you with a certain aspect of your life. What is wrong is getting so many similar books to read and feel like you have solved that aspect of your life. That is certainly not how to measure whether a problem is solved or not.

“You do not have to read all the self-help books out there; take your time to pick a few good ones and put into use whatever you learn from them.”

b)  Make your schedule realistic;

Packing your days with a lot of things to do is not going to help because the probability of you burning out fast is high. The more intense the burnout is the lesser the chances of you snapping out of it quickly and the less productive you will be.

I remember thinking that productivity meant having a check list for the day and filling it up with so many things and checking each task off as I finished doing it. I realized that it became more about finishing the things on the list than it was about enjoying and actually digesting whatever I was doing.

For instance, I could not remember well whatever I had read because I was thinking about the next thing on the list. So I had to reread it and that was basically counterproductive. I got uninspired pretty fast because I did not feel myself enjoying whatever I was doing.

c) Ignore the Social Media Gurus; Do what works for you;

I watched a video once about having a morning routine because it is believed that “if you conquer the morning you have a higher chance of conquering your day.” While there may be some truth in the theory, I soon came to realise that whatever the guy was doing in the video was something almost impossible for me to do in the short span of time considering I had work to do for the rest of the day.

The guy had meditated, worked out, made breakfast and had it, took a shower, read a chapter, replied to emails and got dressed before he left for office by 7 am. So we obviously know how this may not work for everyone considering we all have different schedules.  What worked for the guy did not work out for me. Do what works for You.

“How I read a book a day,” is one of the most common lines some guru’s use to sell whatever they want to sell. Remember, there is nothing wrong with reading a book a day. Rereading it because you did not get whatever it was saying since you were obsessed with finishing it is what counter-productivity means.

d) Be decisive of the things on your to-do list

Being a “busy-body” is a trap most of us fall into. We think we put in so much work in our days yet we see no tangible results or progress slower than we are supposed to. We complain of all the “hard-work” we put in but “life being unfair,” has not rewarded us for it.

We want to do so many things at once we end up doing very little to nothing instead. This is caused mainly by being indecisive of what we want to do hence every little thing we see “sparks our interests” and so we grasp for it and add it to the many other things we have on our list.

Be sure of what you want to work on and focus on that. You will find it easier to focus and not find an excuse to escape from your task list because it was not what you really wanted to do.

e) Do not put up an appearance, be real with yourself; 

Forget about “looking productive” and actually “be productive.” Do not try to convince yourself and others that you are putting the work when you know so well that you are not. You might just end up believing in your lies.

Call yourself out on the things you did not do. Do not check something off in your list if you know you did not actually do it. Because at the end of the day it is yourself you have to answer to for the lack of progress you see in whatever you do.

In the words of Dale Wimbrow

The Guy in the Glass
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

Dale Wimbrow (c) 1934

Fyodor Dostoyevsky warned us on this by saying that:

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.” 



  1. I love this.
    The honesty behind this especially when it comes to having a realistic schedule.
    This is honestly a good read
    Thank you 🙏🏽

    Liked by 1 person

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