November 8, 2021

DO | The Myth of Productivity

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Picture this: you’re up at some ungodly hour of the night, staring at your untouched lecture recordings or scanning your non-existent essay for typos. Somehow your backup stock of panic-induced drive has yet to kick in. You fully recognize your own incompetence, yet lack the willpower to remedy it. You wonder how in the world you let yourself get to this point, knowing full well that this isn’t the first time, and it surely won’t be the last. 

If the situation I just described resonated deeply with your soul, I want to take a minute for a proverbial group hug. Us procrastinators have it tough, wallowing in our own indulgences, just inches away from the shining treasures of productivity, yet unable to force ourselves to put in the slightest bit of effort to get there. The momentary pleasures, the self-loathing, the sleepless nights; it’s a tough life that is almost entirely self-inflicted.

If you are a disciplined and motivated person who couldn’t relate to my hypothetical, though, just know I am absolutely praying for your downfall. I hope the dreadful onus of laziness comes down on you in your darkest hour and saps you of your potent self-restraint. And when you lie feeble on the ground, conquered by your own fleshly impulses, I will probably be right next to you, in the exact same situation. 

In a previous column, “The Myth of Passion”, I argued against the conception that one needs to be in love with their career choice to have a fulfilled life. This week, though, I want to take it a step further and challenge the very idea that productivity is an intrinsically good thing.

Now, I know this seems like little more than justification for a lifetime of procrastination, which it absolutely is (unless you’re a member of a medical school admissions board reading, in which case this whole column is just a creative writing experiment). But nevertheless, I think I have some legitimate points to make against productivity. 

A big problem with productivity, especially for students, is that it has become a status symbol. Kids love showing off their study sessions on social media, flaunting their sprawl of problem sets and color-coded diagrams. Popular “Studygram” accounts showcase elaborately designed notes adorned with calligraphed titles and pastel color pallets. More explicitly, “Day In My Life” videos glorify the college student lifestyle, convincing viewers that they too should adopt the “rise and grind” mentality.

In cases like these, productivity becomes its own reward. Usually when we study, we do so because some future benefit will outweigh the temporary, though excruciating, pain of working. While this is a smart approach, it is very easy to lose sight of those future benefits when productivity becomes a metric by which we judge the usefulness of peoples’ existences. It’s no longer about securing a stable career, but rather “complaining” (read: flexing) about how absurdly difficult your major is, despite the fact that you seemed pretty in love with it during your interview for that one internship

We’ve become so used to academic competition that we can’t help but make judgments about others based on how hard they appear to be working. If someone always manages to turn in flawless lab reports on time, it must mean they have their entire life together, right? That one friend who seems to live in the library – they must be destined for greatness above all us mere mortals. So many facets of our life are set on assessing our productivity that we become convinced that a productive life equals a successful one.

In reality, though, no one is as one-dimensional as that. Productivity just so happens to be an easy metric, a way to quantify how valuable we are to the world. We can directly compare incomes, GPAs, scores, etc. to easily place ourselves on the hierarchy of productive human beings. Our well-being, relationships, sense of humor, leisure, personal interests, in-depth knowledge of biographical information about the members of BTS: These are all dimensions of who we are as people that deserve as much attention as productivity. They are overlooked simply because our tiny brains can’t turn them into prideful competitions like they can with school or work.

On that point, it’s a bit annoying how much shame we’ve placed on spending time doing things just for the fun of it. If I have homework to do but choose to listen to music that I like instead, who’s to say I’m not being productive? Is making myself happier through songs that I like not an extremely productive thing to do? Success is such an all-encompassing goal that anything that doesn’t directly bring us closer to it must be a complete waste of time.

Just because you find yourself in the pitfalls of procrastination, does not mean that your entire life is in shambles. Your productivity should not define how valuable you perceive yourself or others to be. If you’re able to strike a balance that you like between procrastination and work, then by all means, treat yourself to that trip down into your YouTube recommendations. Hop onto Wikipedia to discover all the disturbing details of your favorite celebrities’ lives. Learn the intimate dealings of the latest Twitter beef just to feel something. As long as you’re happy, then the work can wait. After all, it’ll always be there tomorrow. 

Noah Do is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at  [email protected]  Noah’s Arc runs every other Monday this semester.