All our lives, we have been taught that we need to do something useful with every minute of our day. As kids, we were taught to get home from school, eat, do our homework, and then play a bit before bedtime. A six-hour school day may have one break of 30 to 45 minutes, or several short breaks of 15 minutes, provided they don’t exceed 45 minutes. Yet, to our educators this schedule was not intensive enough and we needed to do more work at home.
On weekends, we had enough homework to keep us busy for at least one of the two days, we had off. However, we were still told that we were not productive enough if our grades slipped.
As college students, we spent a good portion of our time between lectures, exams, deadlines, and study groups. We were taught that the time we spent studying is, in fact, a productive investment in our future. At work, we even became conditioned to believe that our success depends on the hours we put into what we are doing. Some of us even believe that working 9 to 5 may not be enough if we want to achieve more.
It seem that in all our life stages, we are taught that our productivity is measured by how busy we are and how much work we do. But, is this really the true definition of productivity?
If you look up the word productivity on Google, you will realize that it is the amount of output produced by each unit of input. If we say the input we are dealing with is our fellow human being, then productivity is the amount of work a human being does within a given unit of time. Maybe, it is from this definition that we have come to believe that anything not work or study related is not productive. Some of us fail to realize that we can do productive work in less time.
It is funny how many guides you will find online on increasing your productivity. These guides basically show you how to do more in your already busy day. It is within this mentality that we often believe that we are only productive if we are doing something useful. Furthermore, we have come to believe that we are only doing something useful if it contributes to our careers, our society, our goals, or our objectives.
Some people even believe that they are only doing something useful if it increases their income, or it raises their rank on the corporate ladder, or if it increases their contribution to the local economy. We have even been conditioned to welcome the feeling of being busy all the time, in a quest to increase this productivity, and more importantly, we fall into the trap of believing that any time spent not working on a goal, a purpose, or even a job is wasted time.
But is down time really time wasted? Is doing nothing, something we should feel guilty about? The truth is that it shouldn’t be this way, because if we are working all the time on our productivity, this will make our ideas dated and stale. We leave no time for ourselves to experience new things in the world, or infuse new ideas into our productivity plans.
I have personally learned to dispute this belief. I have learned to not feel guilty about time I don’t spend working. I learned to welcome weekends where I do nothing related to work, or where I read a novel I like, watch a bunch of movies, or do something as simple as playing board games with my niece. I have found that when I dispensed with the guilt of not being productive, I have in fact learned to feel more passionate about my work, because I’m thinking about it five days a week not seven. I have also found that I get more done during the day because I’m not burned out by my own thoughts. The different things I do outside work inspire me to add new angles to my work. So, in the long run maybe decreasing the intensity of our productivity creates better outcomes.
Maybe our thoughts should change and we should not feel guilty about allowing ourselves to be lazy for some portions of our days. After all, life experience bring more creativity and more creativity may lead to unique outcomes. Maybe productivity should not be measured by the time spent working or by how busy we are, but instead it should be measured by the results we report and the enthusiasm we bring to our workplace.
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