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The Productivity Obsession

Imagine you’ve been trained to swim in a small paddle pool for a certain number of years. Suddenly, one day, to your surprise, you’ve been asked to swim in an ocean. Would you consider it an easy jump?

Article written by Rakshitha Raghunandan and Madhumitha K.

Edited by Amirah Khan

We all seem obsessed with productivity or the idea of getting things done. For almost everyone, regardless of profession or identity, the concept of productivity is relevant. We see so many books, articles, and videos supposedly teaching us how to be more productive. Firstly, what is productivity? Productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a person completing a task. It essentially means a person’s ability to get important things done consistently.

The fact that there is a wide prevalence of productivity obsession is evident. A few people are deemed “productivity icons” – CEOs, millionaires, tech geniuses, etc – and people want to know what their schedule is like and what their secret to success is. They might say things like waking up incredibly early, planning out every second of their day, extreme fasting, and wearing the same clothes to reduce decision fatigue. These are unrealistic and even irrational for the average individual. Similarly, there has been an increase in “motivational” content on platforms like YouTube and Instagram. While these are helpful and motivating to some people, it can cause others to set unrealistic expectations and compare themselves. These so-called “productivity tips” might not work for everyone depending on their lifestyle, personality, workload, energy or motivation levels, and various other factors.

Especially at the beginning of the global pandemic, the way all of us view productivity changed significantly. A lot of our plans and schedules were abruptly interrupted because of it. At first, some might have seen it as a way to be super productive and get a lot of things done, while others might have seen it as a way to take a long-needed break.

With the closing down of all educational institutions across the world, schools have shifted to online schooling, bringing too many motivational, technical and social problems. Especially for students, the shift to online education was an extreme change, and not everyone can cope with it. Students are given the same amount, if not more, of workload despite it being unprecedented and confusing times. We are expected to maintain optimum levels of productivity and be on time with our deadlines and obligations. After all, it’s not like we’ve got anything else to do, right?

Wrong!

The fact that we are facing a pandemic and are cut off from our social circles, the horrible times and events we are going through, and various other personal issues one might be facing are all detrimental to one’s mental health. It is practically impossible to get motivated enough to sit down and work on a simple assignment or even tend to personal hygiene.
The real issue is having the motivation and focus required to study and work from home. With the lack of an authority figure physically present, it’s entirely easy to get distracted and get sucked into endless hours of scrolling on social media.

As days went by, our tendency to be productive and our levels of motivation all started to fade. As students, what we thought would be a two-week-long break from homework and assignments ended up as one of the most challenging times students could face during their schooling. After years of being trained in a formal environment such as a classroom, changing immediately to a laptop screen is not an easy task. To better understand this whole situation, let us view it with the help of an example. Imagine you’ve been trained to swim in a small paddle pool for a certain number of years. Suddenly, one day, to your surprise, you’ve been asked to swim in an ocean. Would you consider it an easy jump?

To gain more insight into how this one year has been for students, we spoke to a group of high school students ages 17-18. Here’s what they had to say:

“I was excited to try out online classes for the first time because I was always intrigued by the whole thing. But as time passed, it started becoming more of a chore, and I honestly started hating the whole experience, knowing that I was losing out on my last year of school.”

“I don’t exactly have a stable family situation at home. Going to school used to be an escape from it all. Now that I’m stuck at home, it’s affected me a lot.”

“With college applications, it’s made online school a whole lot harder. Finding a balance hasn’t been easy, and I’m still struggling.”

On the other hand, working professionals and parents don’t have it any easier. This pandemic has seen a massive loss in jobs and has created financial debts for many. Employees have to now suddenly work from home, which demanded a lot of adjustment and effort or took in an enormous workload if they were a healthcare worker or rendered jobless. Parents had to create a balance between catering to their job and catering to their kid’s needs. Lines between work and home life easily blur. In the midst of this all, people had to find a way to make time for themselves; after a while, staring at a screen becomes boring, and the stress that comes with it is dangerous.

Now that it’s been a year of unpredictable changes, if there is anything we need to remember, it’s okay not to be productive! Despite what you see on social media, you don’t need to prove how effective you can be.

In a global crisis, where being productive during stressful times dominates the internet, it is easy to feel as if you didn’t do enough to make the most of a time of isolation. It is essential to know that there is no set standard for getting done when you are bound to your home. Those who took time to relax over the months did something just as incredible as those who deep-cleaned their closets and became dedicated to physical fitness. In one way or the other, they let their minds and bodies rest. Being able to have the time to take a step back and evaluate mental wellbeing is a gift, and there should be no guilt for spending the whole quarantine lounging around the house with your eyes glued to a laptop screen. If you felt that during quarantine, you could unwind, let go or breathe easy, you did more than enough.

If you haven’t been able to keep up with your work goals, it’s okay!

If you haven’t been able to follow a workout schedule, it’s okay!

If you haven’t been able to try out new things as much as you’ve wanted to, it’s okay!

Just because someone else could practice a new skill does not mean you should do it too. During these terrible months, you should never be too hard on yourself. The big picture is that this is a scary time for all of us. With the pandemic thrown in our lives, the main aim of lockdowns being enforced globally was to stay safe, though the whole narrative now has been spun around being productive at home. We all lead different lives with different reasons for other things. This pandemic is an unusual situation, and as each day unfolds, we face uncertainty and new challenges in different realms. If we’ve been staying healthy up until today, that in itself is a blessing in disguise. Allow yourself to breathe, take a break, and acknowledge the emotions you’re supposed to feel. Pandemic or not, we have worth despite our achievements and success. Use this time to focus on your wellbeing and your loved ones as well.

With a few months into 2021, it’s vital to take a step back and make sure you aren’t allowing too much to be put on your plate. Know that it is okay to take time to relax and be gracious to yourself and others, and be proud of yourself for taking it too slow these last few months. It isn’t selfish to say “no” to others to focus on yourself and your own mental, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing during these trying times.

Remember, it’s okay not to be productive.

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