Counterproductive: From management to managing

Posted on | January 26, 2014 | No Comments

The history of time management in the workplace draws on ideals of efficiency arising from the factory: a worker who comes to work, ‘clocks’ on and off, with discrete periods of separation and respite from the job. Extended to professional realms, the careful orchestration of activities through calendars and schedules allowed office workers the capacity to claim time for themselves both within and outside the temporal logic of the organization. The widespread take-up of online and mobile technologies and the emergence of post-Fordist data industries change this temporal configuration significantly. Today’s workplaces span time and space, resulting in a growing experience of presence bleed. Workers learn to manage themselves in proximity to a workplace that is both ambient and omnipresent. Never entirely relieved of their obligations, the default measure for productivity is an amorphous display of commitment.

Coping mechanisms for dealing with constant availability are often adhoc, as reflected in the proliferation of lifehacking plugins, services and apps. The boom in productivity platforms – equipment that quantifies tasks, privileges attention and encourages mindfulness through pervasive assistance – reflects a moment in which professionals are personally responsible for their own performance. Adhoc professionals in and beyond the organization are entrusted to internalize productivity, accomplish results and maintain composure through techniques that are self-sought and -taught. The science of management thus gives way to the pseudo-science of self-help, as workers attempt to focus and flourish – at the very least, simply to manage.

Professional subjectivity in this situation calls for technological innovations that enable performative presence on the one hand and opportunities for withdrawal and obfuscation on the other. This paper surveys a number of productivity apps, lifehacks and “Getting Things Done” philosophies to illustrate the regenerative and reflexive activities accompanying knowledge work today. Identifying these affective support structures reveals new priorities for workers and management, including the right to ritual. An anthropotechnics of mindful labor asserts the benefits of work beyond the productivity imperative.

– Abstract for SCA The Ends of Work conference, slightly amended


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