As Gregg points out, it is significant that “personal productivity” puts the burden of reconciling these demands squarely on our shoulders as individuals. Time management gurus rarely stop to ask whether the task of merely staying afloat in the modern economy – holding down a job, paying the mortgage, being a good-enough parent – really ought to require rendering ourselves inhumanly efficient in the first place.
Besides, on closer inspection, even the lesser promises of time management were not all they appeared to be. An awkward truth about Taylor’s celebrated efficiency drives is that they were not very successful: Bethlehem Steel fired him in 1901, having paid him vast sums without any clearly detectable impact on its own profits. (One persistent consequence of his schemes was that they seemed promising at first, but left workers too exhausted to function consistently over the long term.)
Likewise, it remains the frequent experience of those who try to follow the advice of personal productivity gurus – I’m speaking from years of experience here – that a “mind like water” is far from the guaranteed result. As with Inbox Zero, so with work in general: the more efficient you get at ploughing through your tasks, the faster new tasks seem to arrive. (“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion,” as the British historian C Northcote Parkinson realised way back in 1955, when he coined what would come to be known as Parkinson’s law.)
The part about Taylor getting fired because his methods didn’t actually work is especially rich.