Total Work Newsletter #21: The Productivity Trap

Total Work Newsletter: How Work Took Over the World

Total Work, a term coined by the philosopher Josef Pieper, is the process by which human beings are transformed into workers as work, like a total solar eclipse symbolized in the logo above, comes to obscure all other aspects of life. In these newsletters, I document, reflect upon, and seek to understand this world historical process, one that started at least as far back as 1800 and possibly as early as 1500.

Announcements: I’m sitting in Budapest Airport as I write this. Brain Bar, a 3-day conference focused on the future, has now come to an end, and soon I’ll be in Sweden. There, I’ll be teaching with my friend Dougald Hine.

The Productivity Trap

At Brain Bar, I was on a panel with a CEO and a managing director of a major investment firm. We were discussing the “productivity trap.” One claimed that her organization was becoming more collaborative in the hope of forestalling burnout while the other was arguing that in the gig economy everyone, like it or not, would need to be promoting his or her personal brand. I thought all this missed the point.

Which was?

Which was that the “productivity trap” is but one “portal” into the more fundamental matter of total work.

We worship at the idols of The Organization, The Career, and Individual Success. Kill the idols and there is no productivity trap.

The Organization is not a church. Therefore, it warrants no devotion or fidelity.

The Career is not God. Therefore, it warrants no love.

Individual Success is no saint. Therefore, it warrants no reverence.

If none of these tempting us into worship, then no desire to give liters of blood.

As Laozi once said, let the work, which occupies only some of one’s time and only a fraction of one’s attention, be done with care and then let it be done. Gracefully forget about it.

That is all.

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Comments, Suggestions, Articles on Total Work?

Feel free to send comments, suggestions, thoughts, and articles about total work to me at Andrew Taggart <>.

If You’d Like to Become a Patron…

Thank you to my new patron, Francis! If you feel called to support my philosophical life, you can do so here <>.

For Newcomers

Looking for some clarity about the nature and history of total work? Start by reading my brief overview of total work on my Patreon account <>, Next, take a look at the first issue of this newsletter <> Next, check out my Quartz at Work pieces (December 2017- present), which are available here <>. Lastly, visit my website, <>, which is devoted to investigating this topic and which is also still under construction.