The Peril of Productionism


Busy MomMy wife and I struggle with what I call productionism. It is a variation of perfectionism. It is the belief that a man’s value comes from his ability to accomplish or produce something, or that a woman’s worth is found in the amount that she can get done in a day. In other words, a good man is productive every day, while a lazy man is a lousy man. A good day for a good woman is measured in the amount of to do’s accomplished before her head hits the pillow at night.

Productionism is a little different than perfectionism because things don’t have to be done perfectly, they just need to be done efficiently. A productionist is practical and efficient, always trying to accomplish a lot in a little time.

In stressful, busy situations, productionists follow these mantras:

  • When the going gets tough, the tough gets to work.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, just do the next thing. You can do that much.
  • If you can’t do a big thing, just do a few small things. You will feel better then.

Appointments - list of day's appointments written on a spiral paProductionists brag to others about how much they accomplish. They make lists, check them off, and congratulate themselves. Some will even keep as trophies their old lists with all the crossed out tasks.

Being a productionist is not all bad, of course, but it’s a major problem when tasks overwhelm the ability to love others and enjoy life along the way. When tasks are more important than people, we are way off track. Unfortunately, the productionist will often choose the tasks over people, since there is more control and more pride in doing than in being.

I am guilty of excessive productionism. Looking back on 2013, I have some regrets. I accomplished as much as ever before, but it had some costs. Mainly, my wife had to lift more than her share of our heavy family responsibilities.

2013 was tremendously challenging for us. Our 13-year-old daughter’s special needs have always been continually demanding, but this year she had major reconstructive surgery of her spine. The recovery was long and painful for all of us. In addition, our 15-year-old son started his first year of high school, played on two soccer teams, and injured his shoulder. On top of that, my wife had a minor surgery, and I dealt with an inner ear problem. I wish I could say that I dropped everything to support my wife, but that would be stretching the truth. It was not an easy year for either of us, but I confess to being too much of a productionist in 2013 and not enough of a real man.

I was too stubborn about completing my work responsibilities and finishing my book on time. Too often my tasks trumped our family time. And too often my distractions disconnected me from my wife, kids, and students. I should have done a little less and connected a little more. Yes, we made it through the storms, but we are plain worn out.

successful elegant fashionable businessman on the phoneI am not as good a family man as I can write about in a blog or a book. I’m not even as good as I used to be. And while it’s easy to fall back on the standard excuses — that nobody is perfect or that parenting is an incredibly difficult job — the stone cold truth is that I’ve been a mediocre family man lately.

I’ve spent too much time working late hours on schoolwork, then working on my book during family time. I’ve spent too much time in front of various screens. And when the home-front got stressful, I would often just work harder on something that I could control, like fixing the lawn mower or researching something family-oriented. So, instead of slowing down and connecting with my wife and children, I would busy myself with tasks that were easier to control and required less of my soul. Some of this may have been subconscious, but that’s not a compelling excuse. No. This is not the way I want to live in 2014.

Looking ahead, I want to do less and love more. I want to enjoy my family more. I want to be less efficient and more healthy inside and out.

Doing less sounds great, but how do you actually make that happen?

Make Fun – Find fun things to do each day with people you love. Make fun a top priority. It will give you energy and release stress, so you can be both productive and joyful.

Reduce – Eliminate or postpone all the commitments, activities, and goals that you can. Be more selective. Many things can wait, and some of them are unneeded.

Set a Pace – Do a little less each day than you are used to. Spread the tasks out over longer spans of time. Pick what things can wait, then schedule them for another day.

Turn Off – Manage your screen time. Always respect live persons over screens, so immediately acknowledge people who walk in a room while you are reading or typing on a device.

Be Healthy – Get healthy doses of sleep, food, water, and exercise. And manage stress.

Love – Your #1 task every day should be to love God, people, and all the good things in your life already. Love more. In John 15:12, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” That means being loving and doing loving things for others.

So, my goal for the new year is to recognize the perils of productionism and to love more by choosing to do a little less each day and connecting more. Simple. But not easy.

It’s a whole lot easier to write about great parenting than it is to be a great parent. But neither perfection nor production are the best goals for a good life. Focusing more on loving my family and enjoying the good things in my life will be a much better way of living for me this year.

Could you choose to give up a little production in order to enrich your life and others around you?

One response to “The Peril of Productionism”

  1. A very honest post and a common problem. One of your tags is balance. That is always the key and your suggestions lend to balance. Guilt is the villain. Guilt that work needs to be done when with your family. Guilt that your not with your family when you’re working. Always guilt – so you’re never fully into whatever task you’re on.
    You must honestly decide the proper balance for your and your family (not easy); then work when you work and be with family when you are with family, without the guilt. Be honest about the right balance. Simple, right? No!!!! But it is true.
    PS. I’m still working on it but at least I’m aware of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Start a Blog at

%d bloggers like this: