Riffing off of Wendell Berry’s reflection that “nothing can take form except within limits,” here’s Matthew Kitchen writing on the problem with a limitless culture of work:
“Always-on culture is weird. It’s not how humans thrive. It’s not how productive people break through to the next level,” said Greg McKeown, author of “Essentialism,” which details his philosophy of confidently saying no to things that don’t benefit you—a “disciplined pursuit of doing less,” but doing it better. “Modern culture now acts upon us so constantly that we start reacting to it rather than acting for ourselves.”
Mr. McKeown argues that being selective about how we spend our time turns it into a valuable commodity to be traded, ultimately earning you respect and making you more productive when you’re “on.” For instance, saying no to aimless meetings frees up your office time to finish tasks, eliminating extra work at home. But many of us still are burdened by FOMO—the fear of missing out, or in this case the fear of missing opportunity, of being seen as less hardworking and less reliable than co-workers and thus expendable. According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review study, 43% of those surveyed “sacrifice or significantly suppress other meaningful aspects of who they are” and give in to always-on.
So rather than using technology to augment our work, speeding us out the door in 6 hours instead of 10, or cutting down to an ideal four-day workweek, we’ve misused technology to bolster antiquated workaholic habits.
Aims, objectives, and goals require discipline, and I think discipline requires the sort of “essentialism” that Greg McKeown is talking about. That Harvard Business Review study is really dispiriting, if it’s true that nearly half of Americans “sacrifice or significantly suppress” their own personal and familial wellbeing simply to give the appearance of perpetual engagement.