It's Time To Redefine Productivity

Women siting on her bed Photo by Kinga Cichewicz from Unsplash As this school year draws to a close, many of us are feeling like we’re getting a chance to breathe. We’ve finished a full year of Zoom classes and much more mental and emotional labor than any of us could have anticipated. After a long quarantine period that limited work and school outside of the home, it may feel like an entire year went by with no activity— an entire year of “laziness." Some people may be looking forward to being more productive or are lamenting their lack of productivity. I say, throw that notion of productivity out the window.  

If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking about how much more time you spent watching movies or hanging around the house when you could’ve been reading, learning a new skill, or baking the latest dessert recipes from Instagram. Thinking this way is perfectly normal, and I can guarantee that you aren’t the only one feeling that way. But after spending months feeling guilty for not doing more, I need to share what I’ve come to realize about this so-called productivity — it's all fake. It’s an image projected onto people who live for the hustle and seek to optimize their lives, filling them with too many activities and commitments. I know from experience that it isn’t all that. Granted, everyone is different and there are people out there that thrive under intense workloads, but it isn’t all of us. And many of us are struggling to try to be that person.  

We’ve been encouraged, in great part by the internet, to follow hustle culture because it will allow us to secure higher paychecks to do all the things that we see influencers doing; they’re traveling, buying expensive homes, creating a life of luxury for themselves. The thing we don’t see is the insane workload they have behind the scenes. It seems like a lot of influencers don’t even have time to properly enjoy the life they’ve created. Influencer visions aside, people like to brag about their 70-hour work weeks and how late they stay up finishing up work. Hustle culture is very much alive outside of social media and is especially prevalent in college circles. Students take on heavy course loads, work outside of school, internships, volunteer work, stress-related mental health issues, and other forms of campus participation while trying to maintain a social life, because that’s what college is for after all. And yet, most of us begin to abandon one of those things at some point in college because we’re burnt out and trying so hard to subscribe to the hustle culture that we’ve been told is “productive." But if this type of productivity consistently leads to burnout and elevated stress levels, is it really all that productive? 

I’ve mentioned the pervasiveness of hustle culture on the internet, but it’s the internet that has allowed me to reverse that attitude and reframe the way I think about productivity. We think of the hustle as being productive in our lives, but it doesn’t consistently yield high rewards and instead causes us to feel worse physically and mentally. Over the past eight months or so, I’ve read words of affirmation over and over on various sites from random people and they all boil down to the same thing: if it isn’t helping you be your best self, it’s not productive. That means health-wise, mentally and physically. The beginning of quarantine saw a social media landscape saturated with advice regarding productivity in quarantine. This included tips on picking up a new skill, practicing old skills, getting ahead on the spring cleaning, trying new recipes, and various other normally productive things. What I didn’t see was anyone expressing that it was okay to feel sluggish and anxious and overall unmotivated in quarantine. This was probably due to the widely held belief that it would be over in a couple months, which obviously did not pan out. Slowly, though, I began to see more people publicly recognizing that it was a difficult time to do anything but take care of yourself. And that’s when I began to see productivity in a different light. 

I was no longer working two jobs and doing more school work than I should have signed up for. It seemed like an accomplishment at the time, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. I wasn’t seeing friends and I didn’t have time for anything other than the commitments to work and school that I’d taken on thinking that the hustle would be good for me. When quarantine began and I suddenly didn’t have to go in to work and my days were defined by Zoom classes, I started to realize that I wasn’t spending my time in any way I wanted to. I wasn’t managing my time; I just had a lot to do that happened to take up nearly all of it. During quarantine, I started to understand that taking care of my mental and physical well-being was productive. It was making me a healthier person and in doing that, I was ensuring that I’d be able to be a better person in everything that I did. Before quarantine, I was watching “Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants” to cry and let out my emotions. Then I’d go back to that paper I was writing or the work I had to get done. During quarantine, I was still definitely doing that (old habits die hard, what can I say) but I was also working to address the actual reasons I was feeling a certain way. I began to pay attention to my mind and body, so much so that I can tell when I’m getting sick from not eating enough or not getting specific nutrients.  

I won’t say that I’m necessarily proud of my quarantine self, but being forced to slow life down really forced me to realize that I hate the hustle and I’m not ashamed to say it. The glorification of hustle culture has engrained into our society the “importance” of productivity strictly in the capitalist sense. People want to think that the only way they’ll be successful is with multiple streams of income, but in redefining productivity one can also redefine success. If it is monetary, the hustle culture might be right for some people. But for those that define success differently, the hustle may get in the way of a person’s ability to truly enjoy their life.