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Our Obessions with Productivity: The MVP Working Day

Within meme culture (I'm old, okay?) "You da true MVP" became legendary several years ago. MVP in this case stood for "Most Valuable Player." You can imagine my confusion when I stumbled across the MVP working day. Now it turns out that this MVP has nothing to do with the meme MVP. The MVP that was being referred to in the article I read on productivity stood for Minimum Viable Productivity, as derived from the term in economics referring to Minimum Viable Product (are you still following?). Minimum Viable Product as a term refers to the first version of a product that can be rolled out to the consumer. It's used as a way to get feedback on the product at hand, and see whether it needs further R&D, or can be rolled out with minimum tweaks, if any. Now I won't dive into depth here, as this MVP has nothing to do with the MVProductivity. The name just got knicked because it makes for views. Simple as that.


Now when looking at Minimum Viable Productivity, what we're looking at is the idea that not all days are going to be great days. It's not going to be every day that you make the sale of a lifetime. Finish writing a book, or a PhD (the journey is long, my friend). Some days are going to be the opposite of productive. They're going to suck ass. Things go awry. Rather than progress you might suffer enough setbacks to regress. And that is of course never ideal. Although some people take it in their stride, many get hung up lack of progress and wallow in selfpity. Which is also never a good idea, for neither productivity nor mental health reasons. This is where MVProductivity comes in. The article states that you need to set yourself a bare minimum of targets. Say 3-5 goals (from the article, not me). Have 4 (taking the average) things that you need to get done every day to make it worthwhile, or at least not a complete and utter failure. Those 4 things can be: write, exercise, clean, code. Those 4 would work for the average PhD student I suppose. If at least those 4 are met, the day was fine. If you go above and beyond these 4, the day was excellent. And if you didn't make these basic 4 things, well... You've still kinda failed.


I'm still on the fence with this article. On one hand, I think there is a need to recognise that not all days can be winners in terms of productivity. And as a coping mechanism for these days I'm sure MVP can work. If you just meet this criteria, you can still call it a success (or a lack of failure), shrug, tell yourself you'll do better tomorrow and move on with your life. But on the other hand, it seems like a quick fix for a problem that goes much deeper. Since the 1950s, when Ford started the assembly line, productivity has become an obsession. Where it was easy to measure for how many cars or carparts were assembled, it is more difficult to measure for jobs where piece-work isn't the measure of output. But humans, unsurprisingly, glossed over this difficulty and continued to set themselves targets as if their jobs did consist of piece work. Finish at least 5 tasks today, send at least this many emails, attend this many meetings, call this many clients. These things can be measured, but whether any of this constitutes success? This is also where my issue with the MVP working day lies. It feeds into the obsession. Why? Because you determine what makes a good day for you by setting your own criteria. Which means there are criteria to fulfill. And they'll all focus on work and hitting productivity targets. And if you don't meet the MVP working day criteria, your day was still a failure. So rather than tearing away at the fundament of the issue, our obsession with productivity and deriving our own self-worth from it, it just slaps on a bandaid. But you can't fix a fracture with a bandaid. Where is the AZP (Absolutely Zero Productivity) day?! Where is the INABBIMS (I need a break before I murder someone) day? I'll admit the latter is hardly catchy, but it's actually grounded on what's happening in real life.


The more I write about these topics the more I feel like I'm on a treadmill without an off button. Setting targets, meeting targets, improving targets. And the inevitable, humble bragging about all the aforementioned. If you need a Minimum Viable Productivity day to help you deal with the fact that not all days are winners, fine. If you're that type of an overachiever it might do you good. But if you're not that type, and you don't work 12 hours a day, and sometimes you take time off. Well, good for you. I think you can leave the Minimum Viable Productivity craze alone.


You da true MVP if you know when to stop.


Behavioural Science

Personal Finance



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