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Teknotid and human time

Counterproductive. Time Managem ent in the Knowledge Economy
Forfatter: Melissa Gregg
Forlag: Duke University Press (USA)
Nymoten's apps that will make us more productive through planning and streamlining, continue a two-hundred-year tradition of self-help literature about the same.


I installed the Todoist app a few years ago in a desperate attempt to keep track of my tasks – there is the eternal challenge of the freelancer, and apparently many so-called regular employees as well. Immediately, the app began sending me messages where my productivity was valued. Always formulated in positive terms, even though I did not follow my own plans and got ticked less and less because new assignments joined and overturned yesterday's plans. Eventually, it started to feel pointless to step in and re-register the priority order of my new tech assistant who was more and more reminiscent of a stalker.

At about the same time, my old fitness center was bought by FitnessWorld, who without my permission began to record my visits and send me messages about whether this week's training frequency had been more or less diligent than last week. I got the maximum spat and sent both a furious email to FitnessWorld and stopped opening Todoist.

After reading Counterproductive. Time Management in the Knowledge Economy, I finally managed to uninstall the app that had meanwhile abandoned me to stalk me, but with its little annoying icon on the computer desktop, had managed to get on my nerves daily. Every time I honestly update my paper lap with deadlines, project-related sub-tasks and insecure things that I should have done for a long time, but never really reach, I am overwhelmed by many emotions: control joy, apathy, complacency, panic, expectation, anxiety, enthusiasm, eagerness , claustrophobia. Often in a large bulb.

More than anything practical

That I'm not alone in this disturbing level of emotional investment in trying to keep track of my time, I wondered. My completely unsuccessful Todoist experience was also initially an experiment that I threw myself into on the recommendation of a freelance colleague (who at the same time warned that she herself had gone back to paperclips).

The scope of this "desire for productivity" – and the tools offered for time management and time optimization – remains in the counterproductive elegantly explored by computer engineer and research leader at Intel, Melissa Gregg. The book is an odyssey through two centuries of feeding the "fantasy that time can be managed".

It started as a "perverse hobby," Gregg writes of his purchases of used self-help books that promise the answer to how to get things done. However, as the titles accumulated, repeating themselves in new ways, Gregg's interest began to take on greater depths.

The turn from collective productivity to individual excellence was a product of the reorganization of the economy of the 1960s and 1970s.

"I concluded that the function of books must be more than just practical, because otherwise we would never need so many variants of the same advice," she writes. Gregg's quest for the answer to what this and more is, turned into a historical study that links today's mindfulness theories and time management apps with 19th-century studies of movement patterns and productivity in both the home and the workplace.

The productivity imperative

Throughout the study, a subtle criticism of the veil of productivity studies and self-help books lies across the society's mode of production and division of labor.

"There is a crucial contradiction in the aspiration for higher productivity, at a time when wage work is being compensated for, falling in relation to corporate profits," notes Gregg. She even describes her book as "an exploration of how productivity in the 20th century emerged as a way of thinking about workplace performance and its implications for today's organization of work".

My new tech helper reminded more and more of a stalker.

Gregg analyzes the different periods and paradigms in time optimization literature: the early 1800s, when it was not least directed at organizing work at home – and among other things, produced by women for other women; early twentieth-century Taylorist time studies at the factories, as well as the back catalog of similar studies and theories as Frederick Winslow Taylor's classic The Principles of Scientific Management pulled on; The 1960s and 1970s shift from factory time optimization to office time optimization, and not least the shift from collective productivity to individual excellence that was a product of this reorganization of the economy.

Postsecular revival

Finally, in the 21st century, Gregg lands time management and productivity apps and the perhaps releasing mindfulness literature and culture, which, however, cannot be said to be detached from or necessarily contrary to the productivity imperative. While past optimization literature was or claimed to be scientific, Gregg characterizes today's self-optimizing technological tools – and the presentation of them – as more closely religious or postsecular.

The 21st-century "tech prophets" cause some "very old ideas – confession, abstinence, and salvation – to emerge as rehabilitative traits": I was also addicted to social media, but heard how to free myself and become a far more productive individual, it sounds from manufacturers of – yes, technology that promises individual freedom from the disruptive intervention of technology, so we can stop wasting time.

Counterproductive. Time Management in the Knowledge Economy provides thoughtful, disruptive, and gifted intellectual stimulation to all of us who believe that each day can be more effective than the previous and are often itch into a special cocktail of adrenaline, anxiety, excitement and amnesia in our relentless – and destructive – desires to keep track of time.

Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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