How "more" and "faster" can kill your heart

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What if some of our efforts at greater productivity are actually counter-productive?

Photo by Shannon Dizmang, Flickr Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/1UJiSl7

Last week I met an ultra-marathoner (i.e., one of those people who thinks running a mere 26.2 miles is for wusses).

This guy once ran 100 miles in 28 straight hours—and not because he was delivering a life-saving vaccine to a remote, disease-ravaged village. He ran all that way (on purpose!) because, apparently, while some running is good, more running is better.

When I asked about the toll this feat took on his body, he stifled a smile, hung his head and softly admitted it took him “a long time to recover.” (Note: Since that race he mostly competes in little 100k runs. Wimp.)

This week when I got an email promising to show me how I can “get more done" and "be more productive," I thought about my new friend who can't stop running.

Being productive is the new rage. In fact, the only phrase in the world more popular than “doing more in less time” is “at the end of the day.”

In the last month, I’ve received no less than 10 such emails. They tell me that if I would only—

  • Read a certain book
  • Follow four steps
  • Sign up for an on-line course
  • Subscribe to a certain efficiency guru’s newsletter (take your pick)—

I could basically transform myself into a real-life version of an ultra-marathoner. I suppose I could learn—metaphorically speaking—to run 200 miles in a mere 22 hours!

Something in me is drawn to such offers. After all, at the end of the day, it is a competitive world. And the people who accomplish the most typically get the best rewards. Praise, press, promotions, better pay—who doesn’t want all that? What’s more, if robots and computers really are attempting to take over the world, our only hope as humans would seem to be to increase our output (lest we end up part of a ragtag resistance force fighting the A.I. overlords).

Another—larger—part of me cringes at all this “get more done in less time” hype. God knows I’m not against making plans and accomplishing goals. I believe in hustling. I know being proactive is preferable to being reactive.

But what if I don’t want to become a productivity machine? What if I want to enjoy my days instead of trying to wrestle them to the ground? What if I don’t want to come at my life with a whip and a chair, constantly trying to back it into the corner to show it who’s boss?

When was it decided that “more” and “faster” is automatically preferable to “less” and “slower”? I’ve experienced enough life to know that “efficient” doesn’t always equal “good.” In the effort to “do a ton and do it quick,” I’ve seen well-meaning people (including the guy whose face I shave most mornings) morph into busy, harried, task-oriented tyrants. “Getting busy and getting lots done” can make you feel important; that pursuit can also wreak havoc on your soul—and your neighbor’s.

“Hurry” isn’t all it’s advertised to be either. Did you know that if you don’t dilly dally, you can leave Denver at 4 a.m., drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park, take a selfie, then hightail it to the Grand Canyon for another sunset photo op, and be asleep in Las Vegas by midnight? That’s some serious tourism productivity. (Or the road trip to hell, depending on your point of view)

I’d like to see productivity marketers required—like pharmaceutical companies—to disclose the downside of striving to squeeze more accomplishment out of every second of each day.

“Possible side effects of Productivia include disappointment (not all users achieve these same results; in fact, many report feeling like schlubs when they don’t). Some experience stress of other kinds—relational detachment, less frequent moments of wonder, and high frustration levels at the end of the day when their productivity plans get torpedoed by unforeseen events. In certain cases, Productivia has resulted in headaches, bouts with diarrhea, calendar rage, and gross insensitivity to others.

Photo by Meagan, Flickr Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/1Xi4mP0

Today while hundreds of doctors attend seminars to learn how to see more patients in a day...and countless students practice speed-reading techniques so they can churn through more pages at an ever quicker pace, I will ask this question: Should helping others or acquiring wisdom be a race? Call me lazy, but I’m skeptical to the claim that hurtling through life is the route to love and joy.

I heard a story once about a research team that went to Africa in the early 1900s. These scientists hired a group of natives to carry all their gear. On the first day of their expedition, they made such great time and went so deep into the bush, the men had hopes of arriving at their destination several days ahead of schedule. They were elated.

The next morning, however, the tribesmen sat on the ground, refusing to budge. Inquiring about their strange behavior, the researchers were told that the natives believed they had pushed much too far and too hard the previous day. Through a translator they said, “When our souls catch up with our bodies, we will resume.”

If you find an app, a book, or some time management technique that enhances your life and makes it more joyful, God bless you! Use it (and let me know about it). I’m just saying, don’t believe everything you hear.

As crazy as it seems, sometimes less is actually more. And sometimes slower is better. Three or four good things done today with love will always beat a list of 38 checked boxes, a weary heart and a trail of wounded souls in your wake.

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