paradox

Productivity Paradox

I happily embraced the surprising fall weather on the fifth day of this month as I stepped out of my house without any stockings. My morning entailed reading the last chapter of Hiking with Nietzsche, entitled “Become Who You Are.” As I began my hike towards my workplace, my thoughts naturally gravitated towards what it means to “just be” and to embrace existence. Why is it that Buddha’s philosophies keep making that eternal return? Or should we call them eternal constant?

As I trudged down the street, I habitually pulled out my phone to listen to a podcast. But my thoughts wandered to Cal Newport’s ideas on solitude and I knew I wasn’t listening to Ezra Klein’s serious conversation with Ralph Nader. Perhaps listening to a lighter conversation would help and so I switched to another podcast.

After less than 2 minutes, I yanked my earphones out of my ears, took my hands out of my jacket pocket and just decided to walk a confident steady stride. I observed almost every person I crossed, my mind trying to decipher their thoughts in that 5 second glance. I can count on one hand the number of people who were not staring at their phone screens or plugged in. And I passed by a lot of people as I walked across one of the busiest roads and busiest times of the day in the Big Apple. It was 8:40am in Midtown during office rush.

Even the ones who were not plugged in or having a moment with their phones seemed frazzled and anxious. Two people from that entire walk made eye contact with me and even those were momentary awkward glances.

With a serene grave expression on my face, I observed and walked in my happy pace. I was not trying to be “productive” for 20 minutes of my walking. And yet, this walk will make me more productive for 6 hours.

Beaming at the security guard, I entered the towering 9 West office building and stepped into the elevator with four others. Three were on their phones. One looked terribly anxious and another feigned a confident expression. There was one other woman who did not pull out her phone and I could sense that her thoughts echoed mine (at least a bit) as she watched the others. However, she too gave into moments of weakness. Not knowing what to do, she stared at the slowly ticking floor numbers as the elevator did not match China’s high-speed ones, and twirled her hair while looking into elevator mirror. Don’t we all love admiring ourselves?

I stepped out of the elevator to step in within myself.

Recommended book: Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are by John Kaag

Recommended article: https://www.gq.com/story/cal-newport-digital-minimalism