Productivity: the dreaded P-word. Though it’s defined simply as “a measure of efficiency of a person completing a task,” our society has twisted the concept of “getting stuff done” into something much different, and not in a good way. In our world, we don’t see productivity as how well a person does something, but rather, how much that person is worth, and this viewpoint is as equally damaging as it is defective.
If you’re anything like me, thoughts about productivity are constantly swirling around in your head. “Am I being productive right now? Did I have a productive day? Why is everyone else so much more productive than I am?” And yet, this mindset that is forced on us by every part of society, whether it be at school, work, friends, or social media, is wildly unhealthy. We equate good days with checking off boxes and bad ones with getting nothing done, regardless of how we truly felt in those moments. We begin to judge ourself and others not by the qualities that make us who we are, but by how many “things” we’ve can do and how quickly we can do them.
But here’s the thing: productivity, at least in the way society views it, is not sustainable. Sure, checking of boxes may work for a while. It may even motivate you and make you feel good. But what happens when you have a bad hour, or a bad day? Are you suddenly a worse person because you couldn’t get it all done? No, of course not! But that’s what we’re led to believe. And when you live with something that throws a lot of bad hours and days your way, that belief is incredibly harmful.
I wish I could send a letter to every person on this planet that said in big bold letters, “Productivity is not a measure of your value as an individual!!!” and that it would be the end of the constant comparison and judgment of how we live our lives, but I can’t. As much as I want to, I can’t change the system we live in. What I can change, though, is the attitude we have towards ourselves and towards one another. So I’m going to try.
As someone who has lived the majority of their life with something that often makes it hard to be productive in the typical sense, most namely chronic illness and chronic pain, I’ve learned how to function in a world that wasn’t built for me (not that 8 am classes were designed with any sane person in mind). I’ve learned how to get things done without using that as a basis for my own self-worth, and I’ve learned that productivity is not all about cranking out essays, running miles, and cleaning drawers. Sure, we all have to get work done. But we also have to take care of ourselves, physically and emotionally.
So, if you’ve gotten this far into my rant and somehow want to keep reading, here are my top two tips for reframing the way you view productivity:
Tip number 1: Redefine it. Yes, productivity is about completing tasks and completing them efficiently. But tasks are not just essays and chores. One of the most important tasks that exists is taking care of your own health. Maybe for you, being productive is taking time to rest on the couch or eat a snack. Maybe it’s going for a run, or maybe it’s taking a nap. Maybe it’s saving your work for tomorrow so that you can go to bed early and get more sleep, or maybe it’s taking an extra long shower before you go to bed. Some days, if all you do is wake up, take your medicine, and eat a few meals, that’s ok. Taking time to slow down and rest your body and mind doesn’t mean you aren’t productive- it just means you’re being productive in a different way; a way that is best for you. Taking care of yourself is important, and it does “count” for something. So on those days where all you can do is take care of yourself, don’t write it off as a a “bad” day. Don’t say you didn’t get anything done, because you did. You worked towards your own health, and that holds a lot of value.
Tip number 2: Focus on your feelings. Too often, we judge our worth based on how much we can do regardless of how we feel doing it. But writing 3 papers in one day doesn’t make it a good day if you felt exhausted and terrible the entire time. Although it’s important to stay on top of work, it’s equally important to stay on top of your own emotions. If you have a fun day spending time with friends and watching tv, that is still productive – you are doing something good for yourself and your mental health! So rather than judging ourselves and our time by how much we’ve gotten done, let’s take a step back. Think about how you feel while doing things, and give yourself the time to take breaks when you need them. It feels good to check off the boxes, but if that’s all you focus on, you’re going to get burnt out. Give yourself time to do things that make you feel good, regardless of whether they fit into society’s view of “productivity.” Watching tv in your bed may seem like the most unproductive activity out there, but if it makes you happy and allows you to rest, than for you, it’s very productive! It’s not all about checking of boxes for external things – make sure your own health, physical and emotional, is at the top of the list.
Look, I’m no expert. I’m just a person like you who’s trying to figure it all out. I don’t have all the answers, and you may think I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I do know this: your value as an individual is not defined by how “productive” society thinks you are. We all have different needs and different challenges, and what productivity looks like to me is in no way what it will or should look like to you. So let’s stop comparing and stop judging ourselves and others based on how many boxes we can check off in a day, and start focusing on finding balance and lifting each other up. Because as much as society tries to force this view upon us, we aren’t a measure of what we can do or how fast we can do it. We’re so much more than that.