The Pressure to be Productive is Making us Less Productive
Being busy is a seen as a badge of honour in the modern world, or at least the one I’m living in. Did you really stay up till 2 am working if you didn’t tell everyone you saw about it the next day? It’s something I’ve definitely fallen victim to, working myself too hard mostly just to create the impression that I’m working myself too hard. Of course, everyone has busy times in their lives and this blog post isn’t saying that we should’t complain about them or that we should keep our stress to ourselves. What I’m trying to say, instead, is that there’s more to life than work, whatever form it comes in, and the pressure to be constantly productive isn’t letting us embrace that which means we are failing to ‘be the best version of ourselves’, as the cliché goes, in work and in life.
Something I realised when I set myself the new years resolution to take more time off from work is that taking time off actually makes the time I spend working far more productive. For example, I mostly take Sundays off university work now, which means the work I do during the rest of the week, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, is much more focussed, as I’m determined to get it done so I can have a guilt free Sunday off. Taking Sundays off also largely means that I feel much less exhausted and depressed about starting work on a Monday because I know it’s only 6 days until a day off, meaning the quality of my work is usually better.
Of course, taking a day off isn’t some brand new thing that I’ve discovered. Most people in ‘normal’ 9-5 jobs always have weekends off! But, since starting my A-Levels almost 4 years ago, I have never had a proper day off and would spend my days feeling lethargic and not doing the best work that I could because I was so exhausted and bored by its never ending nature. I truly believe that, for most people, spending less time working doesn’t mean that you’re going to get less work done.
That belief is the main reason why I think the pressure to be productive is making us less productive. So many of the people who are bragging about staying up till 2am working have probably spent hours of that procrastinating, which is fine. We all procrastinate and no one is 100% focussed all the time! But often the only reason, I’ve found, that people work, for example, till 2am is for the gratification of doing so, not because their work really requires that amount of time.
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘But I really DO have that much work!’ Fair enough, maybe you do! I know I did last month when I had 3 essays due in the space of a week (humble productivity brag, I’m just THAT used to it). I’m not trying to tell you that you’re not as busy as you think because a lot of us are busy. But just stop and consider if you’re only spending so much time working because you think you should be, when your work could realistically be done in a smaller time frame by, maybe, cutting down on unnecessary routines/habits.
For example, I used to make notes on my laptop on all the books I was reading for uni whilst I was reading them, which was very time-consuming and largely useless as I only ever ended up writing essays or exams on a 3 or 4 books and I had notes on 10 on them. It felt very good to have all my notes there though. I love being organised and preparing for all outcomes so this way of studying felt like, well, the only way for me. But as part of cutting down my working hours, I realised that this time-consuming method wasn’t really necessary. So now I just do it for the books I’m particularly interested in or the ones I decide to write my essay/exam on after reading the book.
That example is very specific to my English Literature degree but I’m sure everyone has similar things they do as part of their working routine that aren't really necessary and that they could cut out or spend less of their time on. I’ve cut down the time I spend on university work by about 30% and I was honestly very worried that it was going to affect my grades negatively, but it hasn’t so far because cutting down in this way has improved my mental health so much which, in turn, has allowed me to do things faster and, often, better.
I still sometimes feel the pressure to tell everyone how busy I am, especially when others tell me the same thing. And I definitely feel guilty about taking time off. Because I do feel busy and I feel like taking time off suggests I’m not as busy as I am. But you know what, who really cares? It’s not healthy to be productive ALL the time - I should know as living that way has been so detrimental to my mental health - and we need to stop treating an overly busy and ‘productive’ life as a positive thing as this only encourages overworking.
This post feels a little bit all over the place but changing the way I think about productivity really has been life-changing for me so I just wanted to get my thoughts out there. I think the best thing we can all do to dismantle this complex many of us have around being busy and productive is to stop bragging about it; next time there’s empty space in a conversation, try not to fill it by talking about how much work you have or how much work you’ve done. It’s such a bad habit of mine and it’s so hard not to do but leaving it out of the conversation can generally only be a positive thing.
I’m just talking about this productivity complex from my perspective but if you really are feeling completely overwhelmed and stressed by your work please do talk to those around you about it and maybe think about talking to a mental health professional too.
Otherwise, if you’re going to take anything away from this blog post let it be that:
Spending lots of time working doesn’t equate to doing productive work.
Time off is necessary and can actually make you more productive and, more importantly, can benefit your mental health in so many ways.
Constantly talking about how busy you are will only make you and those around you more stressed and feeds into many of our productivity complexes.
Enjoy your week, take some time off, and try not use how busy you are with work as a conversation filler!