In a culture of productivity, people feel the need to always be productive.
Here in the United States, productivity has become a tool through which we compare ourselves to others. It’s the scale that allows us to decide how successful our life has become. Many of us subconsciously keep tabs on what the people around us are doing, making sure we’re always one step ahead. We make sure we do one more report each day or put just a little more time into that big project. Even when we don’t really care about the task, we often feel the need to do a little more than the next person. It’s a competition, for some people an addiction even.
Whenever we don’t outwork the person next to us, the criticisms emerge. We tell ourselves that we were never cut out to do our job. We remind ourselves of the failure that we have become. The competition to be the most productive leaves no room for second or third place. If we haven’t outworked everyone else in the office, we might as well just quit and move on somewhere else.
I desire to be productive just as much as everyone else and I often get swept up in my desire. It’s only when I reflect back that I realize my most impactful moments often result from the quiet moments. Those times when I give myself a break end up being the most important for my emotional well-being. Without these moments, I would be blindly driving toward an emotional cliff without knowing when to apply the brakes.
The more I analyze the heightened priority productivity has taken within our society, the more destructive it seems. Some people thrive working long and hard, but many of us need some time off. We need time to just forget about our responsibilities and refill our cups. We need some time to hang out with friends and family, take a mini-vacation, or just sit down and read a book the whole day. We need a week here and there that isn’t governed by showing up that office and bringing work home when you leave. A constant work schedule and need to perform often denies us the joy we seek.
It also takes away from our productivity in the long run. While we’re running on fumes trying to get the work done, we end up getting very little done. We suffer again and again without any real progress being made. We overlook and underestimate because we’ve gotten so used to the routine.
If you feel like work responsibilities are taking over your life, know that it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way. You may not be able to ask your boss for fewer hours, but you can schedule personal time into your day and make it just as important as your work priorities. At a certain point, work becomes more difficult than rewarding. All of us go through moments of this, but that shouldn’t be the daily norm.
Work is important, but it’s the people behind the work that truly matter.