Productivity versus creativity

In The Philosopher’s Toolkit, a false dichotomy is described as follows:

“A dichotomy is a distinction between two either/or options. A false dichotomy occurs when we are presented with such a distinction, but the either/or choice does not accurately represent the range of options available.”

Some examples: 

– Persist in a job you hate OR pursue your passion. 
– Chase wealth OR chase happiness.
– Be a consumer OR be a creator. 
– Do deep work OR do shallow work.
– Be comfortable and stagnate OR be uncomfortable and grow.

False dichotomies all. Here’s another for us to think about: productivity versus creativity. In this sense, productivity is the equivalent of getting shit done. It is blazing a trail through a variety of low and medium level tasks. Creativity is the birthing of something new. It is the conception of a new idea, concept, system or belief. To be creative is to walk into the void, into nothingness, and come back with something.

To further explain the difference, allow me to assign work methodologies to each camp. On the side of productivity we could place the Pomodoro technique and Sebastian Marshall’s Ultraworking methodology. Both focus on short, intense bursts of targeted effort towards a quantifiable end. On the side of creativity, we could place deep work, or the idea of maker’s blocks. Long, un-interrupted periods of time—typically, measured in hours—which are undertaken with fuzzy objectives in mind and are hard to quantify and deem worthwhile or wasted.

I’ll give you an example from my own life. In the mornings, I give myself three to four hours to write—either short-form, like this post, or long-form, where I speculate and plan and play around with book ideas. That is the time for me to be creative. In the afternoons, I try to be productive. I complete freelance work, I answer emails, I plan, I evaluate, I interact; I get all the other important and inconsequential things done. 

As I mentioned above, productivity and creativity is not a true dichotomy; they bleed into one another. But like many false dichotomies—and other obviously biased models—it can help us to frame the issue, make decisions and allocate priority. For example, now, when I consider a task I can ask myself, “Am I trying to be creative, or productive?” The answer determines how I go about my work, how I structure the incentives, and what I consider to be a good use of my time.