Let’s Talk: Productivity Is Overrated

By Lara Tan (22A01B)

You know that funny feeling you get when you open your Instagram account (if you hadn’t already deleted it) around Promos season, and your friends are posting about a certain leafy productivity app that helps them stay focused for hours at a time? 

Yes, you know what I’m talking about. 

Apps like Forest claim to induce users into a state of laser-like focus and productivity, encouraging them to stay away from their phones and immerse themselves into their work. Forest is a cult favourite amongst muggers and people who swear by “the grind”, since it motivates users to stay “productive” for extended periods of time. 

Forest.

It’s not hard to understand the appeal of these apps. Using study bots on Discord or other apps like Forest and seeing the number of hours we clock in whilst preparing for an exam or even just doing regular school work can feel incredibly gratifying. There is something profoundly empowering about taking ownership of your time and using it to its fullest potential. 

Just like the old adage goes, time is what you make of it. Constantly making sure you’re not wasting time scrolling through Twitter or going on a Youtube spree keeps you on track and motivated to achieve your goals. As one Y5 Rafflesian aptly put it, “The grind spurs me on to push myself beyond my comfort zone”. 

Indeed, utterances like “the grind” and “hustling” have become synonymous with this work culture, one that lauds individuals who always have something on their plate, who are always doing something productive. While this unflagging commitment to one’s work can seem inspiring (or even the key to being the next billionaire tech magnate), I would argue that it has a darker flipside. 

Just like a certain Promo comprehension paper on enmeshment would like to remind us, Anat Lechner, clinical associate professor of management at New York University, has decried this devotion to overwork and its pervasiveness into our being. This culture is perhaps symptomatic of a wider phenomenon of “overwork”.

We glorify the lifestyle, and the lifestyle is: you breathe something, you sleep with something, you wake up and work on it all day long, then you go to sleep.

Anat Lechner, clinical associate professor of management at New York University

The worrying thing is, while we might associate workaholism with the working world, the culture arguably takes root earlier in life. Despite the lighthearted joking and branding ourselves as “muggers”, we might actually be perpetuating and reinforcing an extremely unhealthy message; that being productive 24/7 is good and necessary. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has perhaps worsened this predicament. Time once spent on going out with friends and engaging in our hobbies and interests has become devoted to studying, the only other “productive” activity. 

All this can feel suffocating to those of us who aren’t as productive. Sure, we may be coping fine and keeping apace with school, but seeing others constantly doing more can induce some self-flagellation. 

“Why can’t I study more, like them? What can’t I have my life in order, like them?” It becomes debilitating, like watching everyone speed ahead while you struggle to make it past the starting line.

And for the minority of us who are that productive bunch; maybe you didn’t mean to cause your classmates and friends to panic because you’ve already done all your math assignments twice over. But without knowing it, you might be digging yourself deeper into the void known as the grind, where you barely have time for yourself and suddenly spending 10 minutes scrolling through TikTok feels like a sin. 

It’s this obsessive compulsive drive to stay 10 steps ahead that can turn school into a nightmare, edging you closer to the jaws of the burnout bogeyman. 

For sure, there is nothing wrong with being committed to your work or consistently sticking to a study schedule to ensure you don’t wander off-track. I would even confess that I like being constantly occupied and having something to do, as it keeps me fulfilled. But there is a fine line between being satisfied with the things you’ve already done and being paranoid about the things you haven’t

After a month of mugging for CTs, I distinctly remember telling myself, “You know what? You need to get a life. Stop comparing yourself with others and just do what you can.” And although I’m generally sceptical about the panacea of positive self-talk, I would argue that I feel much happier doing what I can, when I can, rather than throwing myself at the foot of the grind shrine (over-caffeination, sleep deprivation, unhealthy productivity drive… you get the idea). 

So maybe it’s time we stop glamorizing the grind. Maybe that sigma grindset isn’t as “stonks” as we think it is. Force yourself out of that mugger closet, and be kinder to yourself. 

396160cookie-checkLet’s Talk: Productivity Is Overrated

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