This year, I’ve noticed that the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is stretch my arm our from under the covers and reach for my phone on my bedside table. I unlock it and scroll through my Instagram feed and check unread emails before I have even greeted my family or washed my face. My brain has already been bombarded with information before I have even properly woken up.
I think the reason I find it so hard to kick the habit, is because I feel some kind of obligation towards it – a constant obligation towards productivity and unrelenting connection to the virtual world. I’ve realised that this is a by-product of “hustle culture”. Celine Da Costa, a writer for Forbes, describes “hustle culture” as: “the collective urge we currently seem to feel as a society to work harder, stronger, faster. To grind and exert ourselves at our maximum capacity, every day, and accomplish our goals and dreams at a lightning speed that matches the digital world we’ve built around ourselves.” The pressure is immense. I feel the need to fill every moment of my day with something productive, I feel guilt when I put off work to take a break, and I witness burnout among my peers – the pandemic of “hustle culture” could not be truer.
Especially being a student, I have noticed a normalisation of a millennial culture (online and offline) that brags about how many cups of coffee they have had before 10am, how many all-nighters they have pulled in a week and their insurmountable workload. Then, as someone who strives to be in bed by 10pm, I start to feel like the crazy person?! Sure, our body clocks differ, and everybody has different times of the day that they are productive, but not sleeping is something that nobody can claim to enjoy. These things should not be the norm.
We have been taught by this new productivity economy that if we are not constantly busy, constantly productive, we are no longer relevant or admirable. “Rise and grind” has become the new mantra for millennials. Our omnipresent connection to technology only fuels this hustle culture, because it means that we never disconnect. Social media also gives us an idealised glimpse into people’s lives and can convince us that we are never doing enough. But, strange addiction to hustle culture needs to stop.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against hard work. As with everything in life – balance is key. In fact, I strongly believe in hard work in the pursuit of ambition and goals, but what I don’t believe in is the normalisation of exhaustion and burnout in everyday life. Time spent resting, sleeping, playing, eating should not be seen as negotiable and you should not be able to swap that time in for more hours of productivity. We need to place a greater emphasis on creating a healthy work-life balance, instead of romanticising sleepless nights and never ending to do lists. I know that there are times in the year when we cannot help the burden of work, and some weekends have to be dedicated to meeting deadlines. All I’m saying is that “hustle culture” should not be your aspiration if it does not fulfil you. Productivity is aspirational, but toxic productivity at the expense of your mental health is not. We need to re-prioritise and set healthy boundaries for ourselves, because the constant “grind” is fast making us become the burnout generation.
So, I’m going to make a concerted effort not to check my phone until I have, at least, had my cup of tea in the morning and taken a few deep breathes. I’m going to pledge to try and see my family, friends, exercise and spend time creating without feeling guilty that I could be using the time to work. I really hope you do the same, because these are the things that keep us sane and make life tender and happy. I’m here to tell you that your worth does not depend on how much you get done in a day. In fact, taking a bit of time to slow down, to take care of your mind and your body, will make you more sustainably productive in the long run.