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Why Aesthetics and Productive Culture Will Be The Death of Me

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I went on a little shopping trip today, stopping by Loft to look for potential Christmas cards I could send to my family and friends back at home, when I saw planners and calendars for 2022 on display. The Christmas cards immediately left my mind, and I made my way to look at those beautiful and aesthetically pleasing planners, enamoured by their design, which led to me daydreaming about how I would use this planner in next year– the year where I will finally get my life together and be productive with my time.

See, in this fantasy, I would have the perfect timetable, one that balances club activities with schoolwork, as well as inserting a healthy amount of social events and alone time. In this fantasy, I wouldn’t be staying up till 3am watching some trashy teen drama, nor would I be rushing to complete my submission before 23:59. No, in this fantasy, I am productive. I get my tasks done with plenty of time to spare. I have healthy relationships with those around me, and with myself. All because I have this trusty planner by my side. 

It doesn’t matter that I have three other planners, proof that a planner does absolutely nothing for my productivity, and it is both a waste of space and money– the pages are barely used save for the first twenty pages that I filled out excitedly when I first bought it. This planner is different. I am different now. 2022 will be the year I become productive. I will get this planner- oh, it’s 3400 yen before tax? Nevermind, the calendar app on my phone and laptop will get me through next year, just like it always has.

Sometimes I wonder how I became this way– absolutely obsessed with pretty and aesthetically pleasing stationery and workspaces, feeling like shit whenever I’m in a slump, and being so fixated on deadlines and the need to be productive at all times. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t procrastinate, I procrastinate all the time. The only problem is that the feeling of guilt that comes with procrastination is further amplified, especially when I see other people doing so much work while I am stuck in a slump with zero motivation to do my work that seems to last a lifetime. There have been months where my productivity was at an all time low, and all I could do was watch flick through my Instagram stories and watch other people stick to the schedules and deadlines they’ve set for themselves while I laze in bed the whole day.

Suddenly, I noticed a pattern. It wasn’t just the motivation. It was also the stationery they were using. Yes, that’s the answer! The reason as to why I don’t feel motivated to do anything is because all my stationery is so dull. I needed Mildliner highlighters, Muji pens, ring notebooks with dotted lines… Yes, my notes have to use the best quality paper and pens, so they can be as aesthetically pleasing as the ones I saw on Instagram and Tumblr. My workspace needs to change– I can’t work in my room, I have to be drinking iced coffees at a cafe with huge windows! Yes, that’s why I’m in a slump! Because nothing is aesthetically pleasing!

Mind you, I had this thought at the age of 17, and I was so hellbent on getting the right stationery in order to improve my productivity that I even ended up making a sideblog on Tumblr dedicated to studying– a studyblr, if you will. Obviously, as a broke 16 year old, there was only so much stationery I could buy, and so many times I could go to the prettiest Starbucks to do my work for a few hours. My wallet had taken a hit, but I was being productive… at least, for a couple of months. 

There was always this nagging feeling at the back of my head that the reason behind my lack of consistency in terms of productivity was because I didn’t have the things other studyblr creators had. I didn’t have aesthetically pleasing notes. I didn’t have enough highlighter colours to create a variety of pages for my bullet journal. I didn’t have enough washi tape to match the colour palettes I wanted to create for certain spreads. I didn’t have enough to be a productive member of the studyblr community. This led to me rewriting my biology notes (a subject that had 42 chapters I needed to study, and I rewrote my notes for all the chapters. Multiple times.) over and over again across the span of two years. This did absolutely nothing in terms of my studies. I wasn’t taking in any of the content every time I redrew the plant cell or the human heart. I was still failing to memorise the function of the mitochondria aside from the infamous statement, “The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. I wasn’t being productive with my time at all, and I kept blaming it on the stationery and my workspace.

Thankfully, I managed to regain my senses at the end of 2018, and finally moved onto studying methods that were actually effective and useful for me (in case you’re wondering, I basically forced myself to do test papers and write essays, and asking my teachers to mark them during consultation periods). All the time and effort that had gone into making pretty notes and bullet journal spreads resulted in a big stinking pile of nothing. 

So now, it’s 2021, and you’d think that I’ve learnt my lesson. Every time I look at the huge box of stickers and washi tape in my desk drawer, I’m constantly reminded of all the money and time I spent trying to be productive, and I had nothing to show for it except a few aesthetically pleasing notes and spreads that didn’t help whatsoever. I won’t deny, my eye for aesthetics has definitely improved, and I’m now more conscious of how I want my notes to look. A sense of pride washes over me when someone comments on how pretty and easy to read my notes are, and I don’t think I would have gotten here without that crazy obsession back then.

However, that desire to have everything look perfect still lingers. The desire to constantly be working is always there. It’s why I keep trying to convince myself that next year will be different, and I would finally finish a planner instead of tossing it aside after a month and reverting back to my old habits. I shame myself every time I take a break, and that feeling of guilt continues to grow when my productivity levels are low. That temptation to buy stationery and create pretty notes comes back when I’m vulnerable, and it takes everything in me to remind myself that slumps are normal, and what matters is the quality of the content I produce, not so much the quality of the presentation. Besides, when has a planner done anything good for me aside from bringing me everlasting shame anyways?

Aesthetics and productive culture will be the death of me. These desires never go away, even though it’s been awhile since I’ve visited the studyblr community. It’s as if all the toxic and negative traits have latched themselves onto me, refusing to let go.

Hi, I'm Xiao Qing! I'm a 3rd year student from JCulP just trying to write about things that matter to me.
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