3 Vices That Sabotage Productivity

Think of someone you know who is not working at full potential.  Why isn't their productivity what it should be?  Reasons might include illness, family health issues, depression, an unreasonable workload, burnout, etc. 

Or, there might be another reason: vice.

Vice is often defined as an "evil habit" or even as a "fault" in one's daily practice.  Aristotle spoke of virtues as the opposite of vices.  A virtue is often considered to be "the right amount" so for an average sized man, virtuous eating would be the middle ground between starving himself and overeating.  For the sumo wrestler, this amount will of course change.  Vice, in this example, would be one of the two extremes of the spectrum. 

Three vices in particular are a real problem (translation, pain in the butt) when it comes to productivity: lust, envy and sloth.

Practically speaking, lust is an urge towards something that you don't have personally.  The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) described it this way, “Of all of the worldly passions, lust is the most intense.  All other worldly passions seem to follow in its train."  How does lust derail productivity? 

  • It distracts, diverting the mind.
  • It impels, confusing the body.
  • It intoxicates, limiting the ability to focus.

Without a clear mind, a healthy body and a keen ability to focus on one thing at a time, it's pretty darn tough to be productive. 

Vice #2 which gets in productivity's way is envy.  When I envy someone else's stuff, I wish it were mine.  The only real problem is that it doesn't stop there.  Envy seeks another's goods but more dangerously, sees the material possession as more important than its owner.  This is a classic case of "thing over person".  How does envy derail productivity?

  • It slows teamwork, causing division between members.
  • It distracts, dulling the mind.
  • It takes up time, bringing us away from work.

And finally, we get to sloth.  Slasher flicks occasionally touch on sloth as one of the nearly forgotten "deadly sins".  One definition is "extreme laziness".  When I teach virtue and vice to my high school seniors, many students think that they are filled with sloth.  Not necessarily so. 

Sloth is a prolonged period of doing nothing when I should be doing something.  Sloth leaves room for the occasional "lazy Saturday" around the house.  What sloth is really after is a habitual sense of laziness- a state which lasts and eventually takes over.  Sloth gets in productivity's path in the following ways:

  • It sees time as pointless rather than as opportunity.
  • It leads its owner out of ambition and into perpetual relaxing.
  • It seeks fleeting pleasure instead of enduring happiness.

Whether you struggle with lust or envy or sloth (or all three?), there is hope!  I suggest taking 15 minutes within the next week and writing down some specific times when you feel a struggle with any one of these vices.  Once you've inventoried your own tendencies, you can focus on their opposites: virtues.

  1. When lust comes at you, have a picture of your family or loved ones handy.  It's nearly impossible to lust after someone or something if you have a visual reminder of what's really important in life.
  2. When envy approaches, walk the other way.  Material things are nice for the moment but will be outdated in 6 months anyway.  Remind yourself of this often.
  3. When sloth creeps in, do something productive.  Go for a walk, lift some weights, do some work.  If you schedule your times of relaxation, the other 'working hours' will be more fruitful and life will retain a healthy sense of balance.

The key with virtue-building is to practice doing good things.  No person masters self without two steps forward and one step back.  Practice makes perfect, at work and within yourself.

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