The Productivity Trap

The Productivity Trap

Single-Tasking vs. Multi-Tasking

This week, we were asked to watch the video below and reflect on productivity tools and the endless distractions of the Internet.

I’m feeling a little personally attacked by this video… and I will definitely NOT be participating in “Tab-less Thursday”! I refuse to make such a monumental commitment. This video reminded me of two of my favourite blog posts, which help explain procrastination and late-ness to non-procrastinators and punctual people. (Seriously, READ THESE if you want to understand the procrastinators and late people in your life better. TLDR: It’s not our fault!!!)

Productivity vs. Endless Distractions

  • Is the Internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions?
  • And to what extent have the productivity tools discussed today made us more “productive” (or are they only necessary because we now live in a world of distractions)?
  • Are we more productive than we were pre-Internet and pre-Microsoft Office?

I think the Internet is both a productivity tool AND an endless series of distractions. As we discussed in our presentation, productivity suites like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace allow for collaboration through shared documents, presentations, notebooks, forms, interactive whiteboards, and more. Presentation tools like PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote, Adobe Spark, Sway, Canva, and Prezi have built-in templates and designs to speed up the process of making your presentation visually appealing.

Although these tools have made it easier to collaborate with others long-distance, I don’t know if they have made us more productive. Maybe they are necessary because we live in a world of distractions or maybe because our society puts so much value on efficiency and productivity. I barely remember a time without the Internet (although I do remember dial-up, early versions of Microsoft Paint, and Space Cadet 3D Pinball), so it’s hard to say if we were more productive pre-Internet. However, I think the more productive we become, the more productivity standards change… and so we’re caught in this endless productivity trap while also dealing with infinite distractions (on and off the Internet).

Why are we obsessed with productivity?

Kelly reminded me of the movie Limitless and how it ties in well with our society’s obsession with productivity. In the movie, Bradley Cooper’s character, Eddie, is a struggling author who seems to have limited ambition and focus. After his girlfriend breaks up with him, he starts taking a drug called NZT-48, which gives him the ability to fully use his brain and makes him incredibly productive. He finishes writing his book in 4 days, starts investing in the stock market, and quickly rises to the top of the financial world. The trailer includes the line, “How many of us ever know what it is to become the perfect version of ourselves?”

In our presentation, we explained that the popularity of Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 in schools (even though they were created for businesses) tells us that our society highly values productivity, finishing tasks, working all the time, and being constantly available. It is reminiscent of an industrial or factory model of school where we are producing students on an assembly line and spitting out highly productive members of society.

In Sir Ken Robinson’s popular Ted Talk, Schools Kill Creativity, he talks about how schools have bells, separate subjects, standardization, and how we sort students by their “date of manufacturing” and produce them in batches (6:30-7:30 in the video).

This RSA Animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson.

This reading, Schools Leverage Apps and Easy-to-Manage Suites of Learning Tools, has several quotes that show our obsession with productivity, increased speed, and wasting less time:

  • The cloud-based tools integrate well and require minimal management to work in concert…
  • Microsoft tools like Word, Office Lens and OneNote allow students to increase text spacing and shorten line length, both research-backed techniques to increase reading accuracy and speed.
  • “The ease of use and the seamless connectivity of tools through Google Classroom has really sold our teachers and students on the tools…”

I’m not saying that productivity in itself is a bad thing. I am very driven by my to-do lists and often wish I had better control over my procrastination tendencies. But we need to be critical of society’s obsession with productivity and how that plays into schools through our use of productivity suites and presentation tools. Sometimes, we need to slow down, take some deep breaths, and rethink things to ensure we don’t get ourselves and our students caught in this productivity trap.


  1. Jacqueline Murray

    First of all, you and your group did an excellent job on your presentation. The way you tied in the learning theories, the evolution and history (I love the notion of thinking of “past” tools and how we still utilize them to this day), and the positives and challenges painted a full picture for people to make informed decisions about what best suits their classroom practices and their students. In particular, I resonated with the many options we have to have students collaborate and for students to feel seen, heard and valued for their contributions. Some students thrive in online learning, others struggle. What your pros and cons illustrate is how educators can be mindful of both situations, and the intersectionality between the two, because this pandemic taught us that no two days are the same in terms of learning. As for wearing yoga pants and a nicer shirt, I was VERY consistent with that. What your presentation ultimately gave space for is to consider how we can make informed decisions using suites available to engage and empower diverse learners.

  2. YES! I am so glad that you were able to tie that movie into your post. I thought of it while writing a comment on someone’s post (sorry, I can’t remember who as my brain feels really old a cobwebby today) and just thought how perfect it was with this topic. The need to always do more, and be more is so prevalent in our society. From getting more tasks done around the house to putting in the time to exercise, all the way to meal planning, all the new hobbies that surfaced during the pandemic, etc. there is little time left to be present. I would be lying if I said I have ever talked about wanting more hours in the day, or for time to slow down so I could accomplish more. I also get great satisfaction from completing items on my lists, and sometimes I find myself adding things that weren’t on my list just so that I can cross them out. Thefore, I know that I like to be productive, however, I am not sure if it’s societies pressure on me to do it, or if it’s my own OCD tendencies that doesn’t allow me to do otherwise. And growing up in a household with those same obsessive tendencies, I think my need for productivity comes from my own obsession to do more and be better, probably mixed with a little bit of pressure from society and more from family, but for sure I think most of mine comes from my own need to have things a certain way. Great post, I’m so glad that you were able to use that perfect movie reference! 🙂 I lived through you there!

  3. Janeen Clark

    Whew the links to the post on procrastination ABSOLUTELY was obviously written about me. Haha. It seems there is the paralyzingly effect on me when there is an overwhelming amount of work to be done, and the instant gratification monkey is indeed more… gratifying.

    I think it is interesting that you saw the focus on our productivity obsession in the “Schools leverage apps” article. To read that article with that perspective completely changes the messaging doesn’t it? Certainly it absolutely highlights our drive for productivity. Scary!

  4. Michael

    I know these aren’t particularly relevant but…
    1) How old is that doctor from the video? — I did some Googling. He was 31 when the video was posted.
    2) I enjoyed the Limitless movie and the TV show had great potential, but it was cancelled after one season.

    Your point to slow down and take a few deep breaths is a valid one. There’s still some four day work weeks happening in Iceland and it looks like Quebec is following their lead a bit.

    Particularly with hybrid/remote learning, the distinction between personal and professional time may be blurred. Would it be better for teachers to work 9-5, allowing for more time to prep and support students outside of designated course hours? I’ve thought about this before. Have me work 9-5 with no extra-curricular responsibilities. I bet that teachers will experience less burn out and that students will be better supported.

  5. Thanks for your comments, everyone!! Jacquie, I so appreciate the positive feedback on our group’s presentation. Kelly, it’s definitely interesting to reflect on where our need for productivity stems from – society, family, individual personality, or a combination. Lol, Janeen – you are not alone!! I sometimes send those posts to my friends who are non-procrastinators so they can understand what it’s like.

    Michael, you make some interesting points about the 4-day work week or working 9-5 with no extra-curricular commitments. I agree that having limits on work time and no extra-curr would help prevent teacher burnout, but I think it would be tough for teachers and students to give up extra-curr activities. Being part of a team/club is such a positive experience for students, and it allows teachers to build relationships with them in a different way. Definitely hard to find the right balance!

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