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The Venn diagram of diets and productivity systems is a single circle.

The New York Times has an article up today about Maintenance Phase, a podcast I have really been enjoying the past few months:

On the podcast “Maintenance Phase,” named after the concept of sustaining post-diet weight loss, Ms. Gordon and the journalist Michael Hobbes spend each episode exploring what they call the “wellness-industrial complex,” debunking health fads and nutritional advice. While health, weight and wellness are important issues, much of what Americans understand about them is actually hollow marketing, Mr. Hobbes said.

If you haven’t listened to this podcast, I recommend it.

Meanwhile, since finishing Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks, I have been thinking a lot about productivity and time/task management systems.

What struck me while reading this Times article is the similarities between what Gordon and Hobbes call the wellness-industrial complex and the huge and ever growing realm of productivity gurus, task management methodologies, and to-do apps.

A big part of the problem with fad diets and other wellness schemes is that, while they may yield significant results up front, those results are nearly always fleeting. The lost pounds come back, the dieter is left dealing with the physical and mental side effects of the diet, and the wellness guru places the blame on the dieter. “The diet didn’t fail. You failed the diet.”

Then you’re on to the next diet, or the next cleanse, or the next fasting schedule, in hopes of regaining the feeling you got at the beginning of the last one. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We encounter exactly the same cycle with productivity systems and task management methodologies. We get to Inbox Zero, but then we just get more emails and feel a constant pressure to deal with every one of them quickly. We buy our Leuchtturms and start bullet journaling, and it feels good to be checking those boxes off and making all the little circles and arrows, but then the fun wears off and there are just more things to add to the list; soon we’re on YouTube watching videos about how to take our bullet journals to the next level. Maybe we need to get an app and put everything into so we can sort it all into the proper folders and subfolders.

We are never going to get there. The new system will be fun to set up and maybe it will even seem to help for a little while. But as Burkeman says in a bunch of different ways in his book, there is always going to be more stuff flowing into our queues—more emails, more tasks, more appointments, more projects—and there is no system that is going to stop that. Just like dieters, though, we have internalized the notion that we can achieve some ideal state of being. If we can only find the right system and implement it properly, we will be able to get through All The Things, and so we are left bouncing from one productivity system to the next in hopes of reaching a place we can never get to.

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