Feeling like you’ve had a productive day can be pretty great. However, I’ve noticed over the last few years is that getting that same sense of satisfaction now requires a higher number of ticked off jobs than before. It’s one of the fundamental flaws of perpetuating a culture that is obsessed with productivity: all humans reach a plateau where further increasing your work efficiency is desired but impossible. At least, not without some major sacrifices - that for some include even their lives. In our economy, as young people who are brought up in a culture where ‘hustling’ is almost a cultural mandate, being aware of the dark sides to productivity culture is hugely important in order to protect yourself from exploitation and burnout. Here are five questions to ask yourself when reviewing the growing pile on your plate:
1. Are all the tasks you’re trying to finish really worth the time?
Before you even agree to take on a task/project/job, really assess whether taking on the responsibility is a good idea. Learn how to say no to things that are simply not worth the time or pay. Being ‘productive’ but only completing a large number of jobs that provide very little reward (whether that’s creatively, socially, financially, etc) does not help your long-term journey. They say time is the only finite resource that you’ll never get back, so think mindfully about how you want to use yours.
2. How much time do you waste pursuing the aesthetic of productivity?
Bullet journals with ornately decorated pages, overly extensive to-do lists that detail every required step of a project, inboxes that always have zero unread emails… a significant amount of your time can actually be wasted in the pursuit of the aesthetic of productivity. Though these tools can be used to increase efficiency - and there are definitely those who swear by them - remember that the number of likes that a photo of the flat lay of your desk gets on Instagram has zero relationship with your actual time management skills (unless you’re a social media influencer).
3. Why do you want to increase your productivity?
If you do struggle with time management on a fundamental level, then increasing your productivity can have a lot of benefits for your professional and personal life. But before you make any decisions about how much more work (or goal-driven ‘leisure’) you want to take on, take some time to reflect on why you want to become more productive. Is it because you’re working towards a particular goal that you have decided to prioritise? Or are you just buying into the very pervasive idea that our worth is tied to our work? Productivity (or the appearance of it) is often perceived as a status symbol, and you’ll have heard many a colleague humblebrag about the long hours, sleepless nights, and/or dependence on caffeine to get through the workload. Look inwards, and consider the importance of this kind of status to you, and whether it is worth the potential expense of time for family, friends, and/or working on your personal development.
4. Will it come at a cost to your mental wellbeing?
The culture of productivity has spread like wildfire over the last few years. Businesses and organisations profit from having more productive workers so it’s in their financial interests to build cultures that encourage high outputs. But at what cost? Humans aren’t inexhaustible machines: stress and burnout are very real phenomena that can have long term consequences for your mental and physical health. And the line between productivity and burnout can be precariously thin. It might seem like a reasonable idea to skip exercising or your favourite hobby once or twice to get more done, be wary if it becomes a recurring pattern of behaviour.
5. What would happen if you didn’t complete that task(s)?
When applying for jobs, people often write traditional phrases along the lines of ‘will go above and beyond’, ‘always strives for excellence’, and ‘is a doer/takes initiative’. Those are excellent qualities on paper, but honestly no human can give 110% to all tasks all of the time. And doing so would be a total fail at task prioritisation since not every job is of equal importance. When you have an overwhelming to-do list, you should ask yourself what absolutely has to be done today. And if a job can wait a day or two because it’s not urgent or isn’t a rate-limiting task, then leave it (and any guilt you have) at the door on your way out.Support Villainesse