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Productivity Can Veer Into Addiction

Written By Michael Ferrara

Created on 2023-06-14 23:17

Published on 2023-06-15 11:31

As the sun set outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of their tech startup's open-concept office, Alex and Jasmine found themselves as the last ones working, side by side, yet engrossed in their individual screens.

Alex, a software engineer, broke the silence. "Jasmine, do you remember the times when people used to unwind at nightclubs after a stressful day of work?"

Jasmine, the UX designer, laughed without looking away from her screen, "Yeah, that seems like ages ago! Now our nightclubs are our keyboards, and we paint the town red with lines of code."

Alex nodded, looking thoughtful. "It's strange, though. It's like we've traded one potential addiction for another. Going out every night is no longer the norm, but being glued to our screens, checking and sending emails at odd hours, has become our new addiction."

Jasmine paused her design work, pushing away from the desk. She turned towards Alex, thoughtful. "You know, you're right. Even when we aren't working, we're in a continuous loop of checking work emails, Slack messages, or updating Trello boards. It's like we're caught in this vortex of 'productivity'."

Alex agreed, "And it's not just that. It's also the endless Zoom meetings that eat into our personal time, or the compulsion to multitask and respond instantaneously. It seems like we're caught in this illusion of being productive when we're just... busy."

Jasmine sighed, "That sounds like something from Seneca's letters, you know, the Stoic philosopher. 'We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise, courage will vanish...' And in our case, it's these workplace addictions."

Unmasking Workplace Indulgences through Stoicism

Stoicism, the ancient philosophy with enduring relevance, serves as a guide for maintaining self-control, judgment, and understanding our sphere of influence. Through the lens of eminent Stoic philosophers Seneca and Epictetus, we explore the fine line between seemingly productive workplace duties and their potential to become habitual indulgences.

The Illusion of Productivity and the Grip of Addiction

In the realm of work, several duties seemingly boost productivity but subtly veer into the territory of habitual indulgences. Tasks like regular email checking, excessive meetings, multitasking, or over-organizing can become addictions, enslaving us to the compulsion of staying 'busy'. Seneca cautions us about such addictions, warning that they can encroach on our freedom and cloud our clarity.

Regaining Self-Control and Clarity

Recognizing and overcoming these workplace addictions is a journey to reclaim self-control. Through Stoic eyes, we see this as the path to attaining clarity and mental sovereignty. When we regain the "freedom to abstain," we also reclaim control over our work-life and productivity.

Distinguishing Between the Controllable and Uncontrollable

In this journey, Epictetus advises discernment between what we control—our actions, responses, and judgments—and what we don't, such as external events and others' actions. Such understanding enables us to exercise balance and power in our work-life, responding with clarity and stability to external work events beyond our control.

The Role of Judgment in Achieving Stability

Stoic philosophy regards stability and tranquility as desirable traits in the professional realm. These can be achieved through reasoned choices and proper judgment. The chaos of external work events can be brought to order through the sieve of our reasoned judgment. If we don't apply reason, our judgments can become skewed, leading to instability.

Caution Misplacement: The Unsteady Path

Epictetus warns against the risk of focusing our attention away from our reasoned choices to factors outside our control. Attempting to avoid all work-related disruptions can lead to agitation, fear, and instability. Stoicism teaches us to find serenity amidst the chaos, underlining the need to direct our focus inward, rather than on external disturbances.

The Route to Serenity: The Art of Letting Go

The path to serenity, according to Epictetus, lies in surrendering all matters beyond our sphere of choice. By letting go of concerns over uncontrollable factors in the workplace, we free ourselves from unnecessary stress and fears. This allows us to channel our efforts more effectively and fosters an environment conducive to productivity and happiness.


Seneca and Epictetus offer practical wisdom that can be applied to contemporary work environments. Their teachings help us identify and overcome work-related addictions that subtly erode our productivity. They also shed light on understanding the dynamics of control in the workplace, advocating the exercise of reasoned choices and proper judgment. The application of Stoic philosophy in our professional lives paves the way for improved self-control, clarity, stability, and ultimately, serenity.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport, is available in paperback form.

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About Tech Topics

Tech Topics is a newsletter with a focus on contemporary challenges and innovations in the workplace and the broader world of technology. Produced by Boston-based Conceptual Technology (, the articles explore various aspects of professional life, including workplace dynamics, evolving technological trends, job satisfaction, diversity and discrimination issues, and cybersecurity challenges. These themes reflect a keen interest in understanding and navigating the complexities of modern work environments and the ever-changing landscape of technology.

Tech Topics offers a multi-faceted view of the challenges and opportunities at the intersection of technology, work, and life. It prompts readers to think critically about how they interact with technology, both as professionals and as individuals. The publication encourages a holistic approach to understanding these challenges, emphasizing the need for balance, inclusivity, and sustainability in our rapidly changing world. As we navigate this landscape, the insights provided by these articles can serve as valuable guides in our quest to harmonize technology with the human experience.