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Productivity as a Form of Self Care

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

If you go on to Instagram or TikTok and search up ‘self-care’ you are likely to see videos and pictures of bubble baths, facemasks, white dressing gowns and green juices – and this is what self-care has come to mean for most people. However, I would like to propose a new form of self-care – and that is productivity.

The thing is, if you want to practise more self-care what most people will recommend you do is the little fun things that might make you feel better – trying out yoga, cooking a healthy meal, doing a new skin routine, staying in and watching your favourite movie – and as a result, self-care almost becomes an escape which you use to have a break from the stresses of your everyday life. But I contend that this is not the only, nor potentially the best, outlook on self-care and that being productive might be the best way to truly practise self-care.

First of all, I would question why escaping your stresses by putting on a facemask is actually the thing that is going to best care for your mental well-being in the long term. Let me paint a picture of this for you. Imagine that I’ve got an essay due in two weeks and I don’t feel confident in the subject area it is on. The stress around this essay is making me nervous and so, in the name of self-care, I decide to take a few nights off, watch a good film and have pizza to make myself feel better. Now, the first thing I’ll say here is that sometimes this form of self-care IS needed. Sometimes you are running yourself to the ground and you need a mental break and so a cosy movie night is going to be a needed refresh and reset. However, I will also say that I know many people who use this form of self-care as a self-sabotaging tool because they want to put off doing the work for as long as possible. And, trust me, I get it. I’ve been there too.

Nevertheless, the saying that comes to mind is “eat the frog”. For those who have never heard of this saying before and are wondering why I’m promoting eating amphibians, essentially the idea behind the saying is that you get the worst thing (i.e., the frog) out of the way as soon as you can (i.e., by eating it). I know it sounds strange but essentially what I’m getting at is that sometimes the best way to truly care for yourself is to face your stresses head on, getting to the root of the problem, rather than finding a way to help remedy the effects of the stress.

For those of you who may feel overwhelmed and stressed but also do not know what exactly it is you should be doing, or doing differently, to improve your productivity, there are some things you can try that generally work to help you get a bit more productive. First is the classic to-do list where the point is to write down everything you need to do. This, for me, is always so therapeutic, as things can get very overwhelming in my head but when jotted down next to a bullet point on a piece of paper they seem a lot less scary. So, write it down – but when you’re listing all the things you need to do that have been floating around in your head, try categorising them. This can be into priority and non-priority as well as the quick jobs you can tick off straight away and then the bigger tasks. One thing to note is that when you write down the bigger tasks, e.g., “Write that ethics essay”, these can often be broken down into more manageable smaller tasks for you to follow such as “read that piece of extra reading” etc. By getting it all down on a piece of paper, divided up and triaged up, I often find that I feel a lot less overwhelmed by all the things I need to do as they are all visibly laid out and broken down.

The next step after writing it all down though is, of course, to actually do the things you need to do. Two tools that can help with this are scheduling and time blocking. I’m a crazy organiser and love a good schedule, and while some people might think it’s a bit much to have a daily, weekly and monthly schedule, I know it’s what helps me work well while also minimising my stress. The important thing is finding what works for you. Still, if you want to get better at being productive, have your weekly schedule written out, with all your lectures, tutorials, society events and so on factored in, it can be a lot easier to plan your work.

This is where time blocking comes in. Time blocking is a time management tool where you divide your day into blocks of time (e.g., 9am – 11am) and dedicate these blocks to a certain task or group of tasks. The same way when you add an event to an online calendar and it colours in that block of time, dedicating it just to that event, you do that with your own tasks by creating time blocks for them. What I will note is important is that, when you are picking your tasks to time block from your to do list, you prioritise important tasks and be reasonable in estimating how long they will take. For instance, creating a time block from 3pm to 5pm to answer a couple of emails obviously won’t be a reasonable estimation of how long that task takes, but it also works the other way – time blocking an hour in the afternoon to ‘write dissertation’ also isn’t reasonable. The point I’m making is to be reasonable and honest with yourself over how long a task takes, make sure you’re prioritising the urgent and important ones and that you give yourself time in your weekly or daily schedule to do them. And once you’ve made these time blocks and you get the hour they are supposed to occur, focus only on what that time block what for – don’t get distracted by all the other tasks on your to-do list that are begging for your attention, or on your phone, or on what you’re going to have for dinner – focus on the work you need to do and do it. (That sounded very girl-bossy but hopefully you got my point).

Hopefully this article has persuaded some people to try my new version of ‘productivity as self-care’ and that you feel a little clearer on the ways in which you can be productive to best help tackle stress and overwhelm to look after yourself. I will end with a reminder that I am not suggesting either type of self-care – the classic facemask and bubble bath one and the productive one I have laid out in this article – is the ‘right’ and only one you should practise looking after yourself. What I am saying is that sometimes you need to listen to your body, tap in to how you’re feeling and ask yourself what will truly make you feel cared for. If it’s ordering that pizza and staying in then go ahead, but if sometimes it is planning your week and getting your work done then maybe that’s what self-care will look like for you that day.

Josie Smith

St. Andrews '24

Josie is a fourth year studying philosophy. She is particularly interested in writing about health and well-being topics as well as the unique financial and business issues that women face. Josie feels so excited and grateful to be a part of an editorial that focuses on amplifying and empowering women’s voices.