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The Productivity Problem

Imagine you get an extra hour each day. An extra hour to finally complete that to-do list, polish off that essay, clean your kitchen. At long last, you would be free of stress and anxiety. Although it’s nice to fantasize, let’s be honest, we’d spend that extra hour piling on new things, setting higher expectations and writing longer to-do lists. 

That is the problem with productivity culture. We have internalized the idea that our self-fulfillment should rely on professional and personal goals. Productivity has almost become a sign of social status – think of the thousands of influencers promoting this romanticized ‘hustle’ mentality. 

Leisure and idleness used to be signs of wealth and comfort. 18th century nobility would happily flaunt their ability to do absolutely nothing. 

Now, it’s the opposite. As UCL professor Dr Gershuny puts it: “business is a badge of honor.” When we reply to the question “how have you been?” with “very busy, too busy”, it almost feels like an implicit brag. 

I’m not arguing against being productive. Achieving goals and fulfilling potential is a fantastic feeling and can do wonders for your wellbeing. What I take issue with is this perpetual mindset of ‘not doing enough’. For students specifically, it’s not enough to achieve high grades – you also have to keep your flat clean, drink a ridiculous amount of water and balance your finances — all while getting enough sleep! It is no wonder a 2018 study from the University of Bath conducted on 40,000 students concluded that young people today present the highest levels of perfectionism than any other generation. Psychologists link this to high records of anxiety, depression, and burn outs within 16 to 25 year olds. 

Well then, what are we to do? How do you avoid a deeply entrenched productive culture? Aside from deactivating all social media accounts and moving to a farm somewhere in the south of France (which, let’s face it, we’ve all thought of doing), there’s no permanent escape. What we can do is find a balance between slothing around the living room and being this productivity machine, heading for a burn out before the age of 25. 

A first step to take is reminding yourself just how dangerous comparison can be: another person’s success does not limit your own Remember the old cliché that ‘life isn’t a race’, and you are allowed to take your time and not rush through what should be some of your best years. Finally, celebrate yourself. Being your own worst critic needs to be balanced out by also being your own cheerleader.

Or as Billy Joel puts it: “Slow down you crazy child, you’re so ambitious for a juvenile.” 

The fact is he’s absolutely right. Although high productivity probably will take you further in achieving your goals, maybe it’s time to reassess if a dream is worth sacrificing your own happiness and wellbeing for. 

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