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Leisure and Rest: Critiquing Productivity Culture

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCD chapter.

How is productivity defined?

The Britannica Encyclopedia defines productivity in relation to economics as “the ratio of what is produced to what is required to produce it.” The U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines productivity as “a measure of economic performance that compares the amount of goods and services produced (output) with the amount of inputs used to produce those goods and services.”

Referring to the factors of production (i.e. land, labor, capital, human capital) that produce goods and services, productivity is based upon a moralistic bias toward growth and efficiency. Efficiency cuts through ethics, subverting the latter to increase the former. Growth as a principle can be harmful, as growth reaches a point of hault. To consistently grow neglects the need for rest and the stability of subsistence.

How can productivity culture be harmful?

The term productivity has weight and consequence. In productivity culture, it is pushed to labor and produce and do more and more, ignoring the challenge of consistently outdoing oneself. It asks one to push themself beyond their capacity. We get tired out. One such example of the harm is in the proliferating term “quiet quitting.” This is the act of doing the job you are tasked and paid for. The productivity culture labels this as insufficient, equating it to quitting, because employers expect individuals to perform beyond their pay grade. But the act of not overextending yourself beyond your pay is an act of self love and self preservation, because work is tiring and consuming. We neglect the importance of rest.

The pursuit of more and greater can ignore the happiness found in what one already possesses. It pushes consuming — consumer culture — which depreciates the value of one’s belongings in the longing for more and more. Individuals prioritize low cost to consume more to have greater quantity instead of quality possessions. Consumer culture worsens wealth disparities, particularly detrimental to workers in the global south. Consumer culture is also infamously harmful to the environment.

Labor-centered productivity centers on the role of work. It is easy to say that one should prioritize profiting labor less and focus on non-profiting activities that bring happiness. It is harder to do in the current state of things. But being conscious that one should not idealize work that diminishes time and energy for family, friends, and personal ventures,

Being profit motivated pushes one away from being present. Time that is not spent on making money is shamed and labeled wasteful time management. But much of the time spent on things we love and things that fulfill us is taken away by profit-making activities. We should not neglect the importance of such things and we should not feel shame about wanting and doing them.

Productivity is strived after. And I don’t think that is a fully harmful ideology. It is great to have drive and create. It is great to give to others. But it is essential to be critical of the “hustle” and productivity culture in neglecting the happiness that can be obtained by lessening the gravitation toward this culture.

Striving for growth means in part being unsatisfied with one’s current state, therefore thinking badly of oneself. We can strive to be better. But there is such vast happiness in being present and congratulating the version of us in the present. We should place less emphasis on striving for this profit-motivated definition of productivity.

Leisure-adjacent productivity

I will define this as something that is productive to the body and psyche, to the health, well-being, and prosperity of oneself and/or the greater community. Sleep is productive. Eating and drinking are productive. Finding spaces and people of comfort and safety is productive. Being present is productive. Laughing is productive. Crying is productive because the body asks to cleanse itself through this act. Walking to look at pretty flowers is productive. Doing hobbies that bring you joy and no profit are productive simply because they bring you joy. This list isn’t exhaustive.

This productivity asks you to do less, find joy in the little things, and listen to your body for a greater well-being output. As we are able, we should focus on finding greater happiness in current possessions, being present, and prioritizing rest.

(She/Her) Juliet is a fourth year at UC Davis, majoring in Political Science — Public Service and minoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s studies.