Productivity to me is spending time outside, eating three meals, doing something creative and socializing amply. This usually happens on the weekends, since my weeks are occupied by school.
As students, we’re intimately engaged in the economy of time. There is an understanding among us that anything done recreationally chips into time spent doing the supreme activity of working. This is an implied continuum, where fun and work oppose each other.
I often hear myself saying to friends that I “have to get back” because deadlines chronically loom. In this way, I pit my social life against my “productive” life, insinuating it is unproductive to spend time with the people I love.
Of course, we must dedicate time to our studies. In the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, doing my homework is certainly more productive than sitting on the couch with my friends.
However, our lives are so entrenched in “productivity culture” that I fear we as students are losing our ability to be fun and interesting people after hours.
I want to define what I mean when I say productivity culture, and it doesn’t only apply to work. It is a way of conceptualizing the world that approaches every aspect of life as an avenue for self-improvement. This framework does not see reading a book as a way to indulge one’s interests or escape life’s monotony, but rather as a challenge to read as efficiently as possible — as if each book earns its reader an intelligence credit.
This toxicity even seeps into our language. We refer to conversations as unproductive, resting as unproductive, weekends as unproductive, as if these parts of life are supposed to produce something.
This way of seeing life commodifies leisure and likens its subjects to machines.
If we subscribe to this culture, even subconsciously, we will find ourselves feeling unfulfilled in our free time.
To avoid this, I advocate for occasionally doing things on a whim –– for no particular reason. Activities that don’t work to improve a corner of your life, even activities that are unhealthy. Because ultimately, where is the fun in only doing what you ought to?
Here is a non-exhaustive list of activities you can do to fight your internalized need for productivity:
- Walk to the nearest body of water.
- Sit on a bench and stare at strangers.
- Cut up one of your shirts.
- Take pictures of absurd pieces of trash (e.g. an open can of Vienna sausages with a plastic fork sticking out of it).
- Draw something on a napkin and throw it away.
We should do things that remind us that we are alive. We have the agency to do what doesn’t advance our careers, make us prettier or work toward any tangible goal. We can do things that are even a little bad for us or a waste of time.
We collectively need to sever the continuum of fun and work. Leisure hours are not unproductive because they “cut into” productive hours –– they exist on entirely different planes.
Productivity should be relegated to the sphere of work. We should allow ourselves to relish in our recreation without thinking of what purpose it serves and be active participants in our own lives.
I like to say yes to things even if I know they will be unproductive, meaning I won’t gain anything in the end. As long as I’m alive, I will always have to work, but it’s only so often that I have the privilege to waste time.