• Advice

The productivity paradox: Quality vs. Quantity

We live in a productivity-obsessed society.

You can’t swing a cat meme on the Internet without finding an article about how to up your output.

There are a million tips out there on how to do more, faster, in virtually any environment: how to multitask effectively while out of the office / while on vacation / while juggling your minutes-old newborn baby.

Some of this is a natural impulse, especially for freelancers, who tend to be workaholics at the best of times – and who are prone to feeling almost like any hour that they’re not gigging is a wasted hour.

But this is, ironically, not a very productive point of view.

When we drive ourselves incessantly – when we do not build in time for rest or relaxation, and when we do not allow ourselves to unplug – our work suffers.

Incessantly focusing on your quantity can really, really hurt your quality.

I have found this to be true on a deeply insidious, cyclical level.

When I’m working too hard on too many things at once, I start to make silly little mistakes… which means I have to check my work carefully, which means I’m slower, which makes my overall focus on quality diminish as I start to feel the pressure build… which makes me make more silly little mistakes.

Trying to outpace some imaginary automaton freelancer out there is the perfect way to drive yourself right into mediocrity.

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Think back on the last time you had an astonishingly Great Idea - the kind that makes all the many pieces of your life click, the kind that glues that exceptionally hard project together.

It may indeed have come during a stressful all-nighter, after you slumped, hollow-eyed, at your desk. That sort of exhaustion is sometimes conducive to breakthroughs.

But, when almost every night is a workin’-late night, thoughts become dull and routines become unbearable.

… I bet that’s not when your Great Idea came, though.

I bet it probably came at random, like a bolt out of the blue: when you were showering, or cooking, or napping, or exercising.

When, in fact, you were thinking of anything BUT work.

Giving your subconscious time to ruminate and reflect is a great way to build work worthy of rumination and reflection: work with depth and meaning.

If you find yourself producing more work, badly – if you, too, find yourself uncharacteristically making silly mistakes over and over again – ask if you’re taking on too much, all at once.

Can you take a step back? Can you create the occasional break in your breakneck schedule?

Join me! Let’s buck this productivity culture, and take an occasional chance on quantity – in order to see what we gain in quality.

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.