“Today was so unproductive. I got nothing done.” I often find myself measuring my days in terms of how productive I’ve been. In other words: if I didn’t do much work or study, it was a bad day, and I feel guilty about it. Because the more I can do, the better. Right?
Workplaces, universities, and schools naturally have a focus on productivity, but the idea that breaks are wasted time is damaging. Hard work doesn’t mean becoming a machine that completes tasks for days without stopping. Feeling ashamed of the breaks you take is not healthy, and prioritises productivity over mental health.
If you, like me, find yourself measuring days in what you did or didn’t get done, you understand the problem. The attitude that productivity is everything can be seen throughout our society. We are told to be driven, ambitious, and focused, but not when it’s appropriate to take a break. Should I criticise myself for being lazy because I wanted a sleep-in the other morning? What about that time I got sucked into a series of mindless Youtube dog videos?
Mental health suffers when employees and students are encouraged to have tunnel vision. A good life is a balanced one, not one with a singular focus. Missing out on that trashy TV show you watch with your friends every week because is not actually a badge of honour, it’s a sign that you’re overworking yourself.
The overwork zone is a dangerous place. It changes your perspective. Talking to your friends is suddenly two hours of ‘lost time’ rather than a normal activity. Not meeting a goal makes the progress you’ve made seem worthless. All of this is harmful to mental health.
Overwork makes it hard to continue producing while devaluing the achievements you’ve made already. The internalised guilt from focusing on productivity makes us feel bad about the relaxing parts of our day, regardless of how important they were.
Sometimes, curling up with a book or watching Netflix in a blanket fort is the best way to spend the weekend. No: it’s not productive. Doing something fun and relaxing will probably not boost your productivity. But that doesn’t mean it should be seen as a bad thing.
Taking a break is healthy and normal, but it usually won’t conform to a time sheet. That doesn’t mean that prioritising your feelings and mental health is not valid. Doing something that makes you happy but doesn’t produce results every now and then is not lazy, it’s important. Relaxing activities are not wasted time, they’re chance to recharge.
We need to destroy the idea that only ‘productive’ activities are good ones. Sometimes you just need to do something that contributes nothing to anyone else. That’s not lazy or selfish, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. People are not work robots with one focus.
Be proud of your breaks. You’re looking after yourself, and that’s a good thing.Support Villainesse