The Cult of Productivity

How it began, and how to survive in this modern rhythm

The 21st century can rightly be called the century of productivity. "Faster, Higher, Stronger" is the motto of our time. Bloggers, entrepreneurs, coaches, and other adherents of successful success broadcast from various media platforms, starting their day jogging and doing yoga at 5 a.m., then sorting out a million work-related tasks while attending continuing education courses and setting aside time for conscious relaxation. It seems that if you slow down a bit and drop out of this race, you will never get back to your previous positions and you won’t get any results anymore.
Thus, the question arises of how it is possible to manage everything with only 24 hours in a day? In the following article we answer this question, and at the same time explain why productivity plays such a role in our lives.
A bit of history
Certainly, such a frantic race wasn’t always part of our lives. Let’s have a look at the milestones of history and see how humanity has changed its relationship to time.

Classical Antiquity

Although the ancient philosophers respected work and personal development, it is well-known that they devoted much more time to recreation. Just consider the concept of "hedonism," which actually originated in antiquity. The life of a noble Greek or a Roman was a succession of dinner parties lasting hours, small talk, relaxation in the thermal baths and various entertainment events. Art and sports were valued, but not labor.

But who was providing all of those? According to history, all the dirty work fell on the shoulders of slaves. A true ancient citizen didn’t even think about the problems of everyday life and the necessity of sweating blood. Trade was the only well-developed activity at that time. Moreover, in antiquity it was considered noxious to spend too much time on labor, for it distracted from lofty thoughts.

Even the Gods in ancient mythology were mostly concerned with feasting and enjoying life. And certainly, ancient citizens looked up to their Gods.

Middle Ages

The church entered the arena and began to condemn the idle way of life. Yet, common attitudes toward labor didn’t change. Aristocrats still had no need for money and led a fairly relaxed lifestyle. Knightly tournaments, balls, various amusements — all of those filled the life of the cream of society. So, time flowed slowly and measuredly. Although the clock already existed, the minute hand didn’t appear on it until the end of the 16th century.

Medieval citizens spent their days either in secular activities or in seclusion on their estates. Even fashion at that time was a reflection of the slowness of life — it took a couple of hours and the help of several servants to put on a medieval costume and make a fancy hairstyle.

The economy was agrarian, and thus depended on the work of peasants. But their lifestyle can hardly be called productive either. It was completely subordinated to routine work, and in the winter, the peasants were engaged only in household chores.
Movie still from "A Knight’s Tale"

Industrial Revolution

At that time, Protestantism was rapidly developing in Europe. A gradual change in attitudes toward labor is associated with this branch of religion. While Catholics and Lutherans, though formally condemning idleness, didn’t seek to change their way of life, Protestants recognized labor as essential and necessary. The industrial revolution led to the emergence of a large number of manufactories, where yesterday’s peasants came to work. Money became a measurable value of labor. Hence, not only aristocrats and merchants got money, but also laborers.

The concept of clearly regulated working hours and days off appeared. Work was no longer seasonal — it became year-round, so the laborers had a clear understanding of how much money would be paid for a certain number of days worked.

Benjamin Franklin consolidate that new social tendency by stating the following idea: "Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions." This is how the cult of productivity slowly begins to take root in society.

19th century — scientific approach to productivity

The secrets of the craft used to be passed down from generation to generation. It was possible to learn skills only by enrolling in a craftsman’s apprenticeship. But as time went on, the need for rapid training of specialists began to grow.

Engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor revolutionized the approach to labor. He suggested standardizing work processes and developing fast workforce training schemes. In addition, he introduced a system for evaluating productivity. The best workers' performance indicators were taken as a benchmark. If new workers' productivity was significantly below standards, they were penalized and paid less. If they performed at their best, they were rewarded with money. That is how productivity got its financial dimension, and obviously, many workers tried to perform better than their comrades in order to make more money.
Frederick Taylor. Source

20th century

Standards and monetary rewards migrated from the industrial to the office sphere, so that managers were also competing with each other to try to win the king’s ransom. The number of tasks grew rapidly, and the rhythm of life accelerated. In the mid-20th century, diary planners became popular, in which you can make plans for the year, week and every day.

In order to make more money, one had to take on more tasks and move up the career ladder. Some people succeeded, others did not. Nevertheless, productivity and efficiency were getting more and more valued in that period. However, in the 20th century, productivity mostly concerned only the work sphere — at the end of the working day, most office workers went home to watch their favorite TV series or a football match.

21st century

Technological development has played a huge role in accelerating the pace of life and promoting the cult of productivity. With the emergence of the Internet and modern IT solutions, many routine processes began to be performed in a matter of seconds. Now it’s possible to work from anywhere in the world — you just have to turn on your computer. And messengers allow you to stay in touch 24/7.

Online learning makes professional development as easy as pie. So, new professionals are appearing every day, literally snapping at the heels of the old ones. Being awake, we stay in the information field almost all the time — and this requires full involvement. It seems that if we stop even for a second, youe place will be taken by new specialists who don’t hesitate to take the vacant positions immediately.

How to be productive in this new reality?

First of all, you need to build an algorithm for completing tasks properly and don’t forget about rest, as productivity decreases without recovery. It’s also necessary to follow some simple rules:
  • Do the most unpleasant thing at the beginning of the day. We often postpone difficult and unpleasant tasks, but later as a result, we fail to meet a deadline. Get things done at the beginning of the day — and forget about these tasks.
  • Check your mail in the middle of the day. Doing it in the morning, you risk getting bogged down in routine. At the same time, postponing it until the evening, you may forget or not solve the important issues that were sent to you.
  • Take breaks from work. Work for an hour — rest for 10 minutes. And during the day, take two long breaks to have a cup of tea, a snack, or a walk. We also recommend using the Pomodoro Technique. This will help you reset and get into work with renewed vigor.
  • Don't get distracted by messengers. On average, it takes 20 minutes to immerse in a task. So, if you work at intervals of one hour, your productive time is 40 minutes. If you constantly get distracted by messengers, you have to dive back into your work again and again, which isn't productive at all. Remember that you can always respond to a message within the break.
  • Adjust tasks to your biological rhythms. Some people are most productive at the beginning of the day, while others look like a squeezed lemon in the morning and begin to function properly only in the evening. Plan your time according to your biological rhythms. For example, you can devote "unproductive" hours to making plans for the day, working correspondence, making simple terms of reference and other easy tasks.

Use task managers as an extra help. Would you like to learn more about them? Continue reading.
How to plan a task properly
One of the most popular schemes is the ABCDE Method by Brian Tracy. Following it, you first need to write out all your tasks, and then categorize them:
A — one to three most important tasks that have to be done first. For example, this can include all important projects with close deadlines.
B — upcoming tasks that you have to accomplish. Getting them done, you will definitely gain some benefits or advantages, otherwise you will experience inconvenience. These could include making to-do list for the week, for instance.
C — easy and insignificant tasks that are desirable to be done, but the deadline is not so critical. These can include planning desired trips, choosing training to improve skills, and optimizing your workspace.
D — significant but simple tasks that can be delegated. These can be both work and domestic tasks. For example, you can delegate cleanup to a cleaning service, but meanwhile go to an important lecture and gain much more benefit as a result.
E — completely unimportant tasks that wander from planner to planner, but you don’t care at all about failing to accomplish them. So, why don’t you get rid of them altogether to avoid them cluttering up your to-dos?

Have arranged the tasks in this way, set deadlines, otherwise they will remain in the form of a beautiful list. And there are several ways of doing this:
Разложив таким образом задачи, нужно поставить по ним сроки выполнения, иначе они так и останутся в виде красивого списка. И здесь есть несколько путей, как это оформить:
Put everything in "Notes" or "Reminders" — the standard application in your smartphone
Pros: you always have your dated list at hand, and anytime you can cross out or delete the completed items.
Cons: it isn’t graphical or vivid. Adding a new task, you have to run through the whole list to find available time slots.
Use Calendar app
Pros: it's graphical and vivid — you have a clear image of how busy you are each day and when you have time slots available.
Cons: You cannot see which items are already done and which are not, it's complicated to categorize tasks.
Use specialized task managers
Pros: convenient navigation and the option to have a look at available time slots and completed tasks immediately. You can also prioritize tasks.
Overview of the most popular task managers
We compare both well-known and relatively new applications for task scheduling — both the simplest ones and proper business managers for collaborating. Here you can find the right solution for any of your needs.

One of the simplest planner apps. It’s perfect for those who actively use their Google account. Created tasks are synchronized with Google Calendar and displayed as reminders. It has a simple interface, so Google Tasks is just fine if you need an ordinary reminder.

Features:

  • Setting date and time of the task;
  • Settings for recurring tasks;
  • The option of adding a description to a task;
  • Synchronization with the calendar;
  • List creating.

Pricing:
Free.

Another neat and simple application. It can rather be called a list-making application — the emphasis is exactly on this. The principle of working with Microsoft To-Do is simple — you add all the tasks and assign a specific list to each of the item: "Important," "My Day" (today's list), "Planned," "Tasks" (all tasks that are not assigned to any list are placed there). The application also supports collaborating and assigning tasks to other users.

Features:

  • Setting date and time of the task;
  • Settings for recurring tasks;
  • The option of adding a description to a task;
  • Synchronization with the calendar;
  • Collaborating
  • List creating;
  • Priority setting;
  • Voice input.

Pricing:
Free.

This app is perfect for those who love a truly minimalist interface. You can create tasks with a specific date and time, recurring tasks, and in the paid version you can use voice input, work with the team, create lists by priority, synchronize tasks with the calendar.

Features:

  • Setting date and time of the task;
  • Settings for recurring tasks;
  • Built-in Pomodoro timer;
  • Synchronization with the calendar (on a paid basis);
  • Collaborating (on a paid basis);
  • List creating (on a paid basis);
  • Priority setting (on a paid basis);
  • Voice input (on a paid basis).

Pricing:
$ 19/year or $ 59/once.

A minimalistic application that performs all the functions of a simple task manager: creating tasks and subtasks, categorized lists, recurring tasks. List and calendar views are available.

Another cool feature of the app is the option of setting recurring habits, such as drinking at least two liters of water a day or taking a walk before going to bed.

Features:

  • Setting date and time of the task;
  • Settings for recurring tasks;
  • Synchronization with the calendar;
  • List creating;
  • Priority setting;
  • Switching to calendar view;
  • Voice input.

Pricing:
$ 2.99/molnth or $ 9.99/year.

One of the most popular universal applications — it has a convenient calendar view; just like Tappsk, it allows you to schedule habits in the mobile version, and add notes to tasks. By default, the app offers several lists for tasks: "Work," "Personal," "Study," "Fitness," etc. You can also create your own list. Some options are free but most require a paid subscription.

Features:

  • Setting date and time of the task;
  • Settings for recurring tasks;
  • Synchronization with the calendar (on a paid basis);
  • Subtasks;
  • List creating;
  • Priority setting;
  • Switching to calendar view (on a paid basis);
  • Creating a list of habits;
  • Voice input.

Pricing:
$ 2.4/month or $ 27.99/year.
It's a business manager for planning tasks with the team. It's convenient for creating tasks and subtasks, assigning people in charge and setting reminders. Each task is presented as a project to which you can set deadlines and priorities, add attachments. Asana isn't quite suitable for quick task planning, but it's excellent for making thorough business plans with your team.

Features:
  • Setting date and time of the task;
  • Settings for recurring tasks;
  • Subtasks;
  • List creating;
  • Priority setting;
  • Voice input.

Pricing:
From $ 10.99/month per user.

This app has similar functionality and task mechanics to Asana — you can create projects with attachments, deadlines, priorities and even location. Collaborating features aren’t so developed, though — it’s impossible to put people in charge, you can only share links to the project. But there is another useful feature — reminders for tasks.

Features:

  • Setting date and time of the task;
  • Settings for recurring tasks;
  • Personal calendar;
  • Subtasks;
  • Reminders;
  • Priority setting;
  • Opportunity to share a link to the project;
  • Creating a list of habits.

Pricing:
From $ 4.99/month or from $ 49.99/year.

This app is recommended by Maxim Dorofeev, the author of several books on productivity development. The thing is that all the tasks can be loaded into the application and then conveniently arranged in lists. You can create projects with an infinite degree of nesting, set tasks via email and Telegram bot. Moreover, there is a handy function of printing a plan for the day.

Features:

  • Setting date and time of the task;
  • Settings for recurring tasks;
  • Synchronization with the calendar (on a paid basis);
  • Subtasks;
  • Reminders;
  • Priority setting;
  • Opportunity to share a link to the project;
  • Setting tasks via email and chatbot (on a paid basis);
  • Printing a plan for the day (on a paid basis);
  • Creating a list of habits.

Pricing:
$ 2.99/month, $ 29.99/year or $ 89.99/once.
In lieu of a conclusion
The cult of productivity is prospering — it isn’t going to wane anytime soon. Therefore, it’s crucial to follow the trends and ensure a productive time management. You can handle it with the help of various task managers. And it’s wonderful that among this variety, you can find the one that’s perfectly suitable for you: from simple Google Tasks and Asana for collaborating to the universal Singularity App.
Download the App
Install SingularityApp on all devices, and your task list will always be at your hand