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Workaholism: Toxic Productivity as a Student

Do you regularly make to-do lists? Do you compulsively check your emails? Do you frequently multi-task? Do you feel guilt when you are not actively being productive? Well, you might be a workaholic.

General work and education times last around eight hours a day, normally from 9 am to 5 pm. However, there is a misconception that constantly gets perpetuated: that one must overwork themselves, to the point of burning out, in order to succeed. This is exacerbated by the British university application and acceptance systems. The grade requirements in most competitive universities necessitate only for students to achieve certain grades to gain entry, for example ‘A*AA’ at A level to read Medicine at Queen Mary. Despite attaining said grades it is almost always the students that go ‘above and beyond’ to well-surpass the requirements that actually receive acceptances. One unique undergraduate secured UCL, KCL, and LSE acceptances after lengthy summer internships, multilingualism in six languages, and an upbringing in seven countries. Another student at Cambridge successfully published a research paper, debated resolutions and delivered a speech at a student UN conference, in addition to founding and running an independent project and a charity committee. It seems that merely fulfilling the prerequisites does not suffice anymore; one has to prove themselves to be absolutely extraordinary, sometimes beyond a rational level. This meritocratic approach to higher education communicates the message that being exceptional is absolutely essential; it has fabricated an unwritten rule of striving to overachieve.

We may all be guilty of succumbing to the modern meritocracy. After all, how else are you attending a Russell Group university? Trying to balance 14 degree contact hours, 7 foreign language hours, 4 sports hours, and 2 miscellaneous hours each week with the responsibility of a Course Rep, QM Skills Award, writing for media outlets, volunteering, all whilst aiming for a first class degree takes its toll on me. The ethic of a workaholic may produce one’s desired results, but it’s at the expense of their spirit. Overwhelming oneself inevitably leads to stress and choosing to maintain this lifestyle would mean compromising mental health and social relations and to an extent, physical health — which admittedly many already neglect. If not managed well, the repercussions will, over time, start outweighing the rewards.

Moderation is crucial in everything. We need time to take care of ourselves. Eating, resting, and socialising should not be optional or just an occasional treat. Abraham Maslow, when constructing his Hierarchy of Needs, theorised the bedrock humans require in life to keep sane. Following the basic levels of physiology and safety, are love and belonging (familial and platonic), self-esteem, and lastly, self-actualisation (fulfilling one’s highest potentialities). Striving to reach the highest level of self-actualisation without first meeting these needs will foster a weak foundation, upon which you face the risk of failure, i.e. a ‘burn-out’. Planning a sufficient schedule to give yourself time to address all these needs — by allocating time for breaks for example, however short — is the key to developing a good work-life balance. It is unobjectionable to upgrade your work ethic as long as society will not be lowering its expectations. Nonetheless do so cautiously, learn how to identify your limits, and organise your time appropriately.

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