I picked up my phone for a few minutes. Those minutes became an hour, and an hour turned into an afternoon. When I finally put it down, I felt as if I was in some deep, dark hole filled with TikTok and social media. As I began to climb out, a familiar wave of guilt washed over me. This feeling — which I’m sure most people have felt to some extent — is a perceived “sin” of unproductivity.
I fell into a trap of the stereotypical student’s definition of productivity — the notion that we need to exhaust ourselves every day to fulfill some belief that not doing so would be a crime against the gods of future success. To you, the reader, it may sound excessive, doesn’t it? Certainly this definition of productivity must be too narrow. While we do need to finish our papers and plan for our futures as college students, we should also remember that there’s more to life than school and work.
Usually our social lives, hobbies and outside interests serve as good reminders of the latter, especially after a busy week. However, I often still feel guilty for not working when I could be. So to stop this cycle of guilt, I’ve tried to expand my definition of productivity to fit a more holistic view of life.
I began by considering the following — what else matters to me? What are my other passions? Other ambitions? Productivity is a goal-oriented concept, so I decided to include my aspirations outside of academics and careers while defining my “productivity.” For example, I play the guitar and would like to be a better musician, so I would consider playing the guitar a productive activity. On the other hand, I would also consider socializing as a productive venture — it’s fulfilling, meaningful and adds value to my life.
Then what is an unproductive activity, you may ask? Of course, it depends on the person. I, like everyone else, want to do all the things in a day that I can. I want to hang out with friends, continue reading my book and finish 18 holes of golf before the sun sets, all of which I would consider productive activities. But I know that in order to accomplish all these things, I can’t throw away my time. So in that sense, unproductivity for me is wasting my time by spending it in a manner that takes away from all that I want to do.
Now, I need to address the other significant part of life that I’ve left out — obligations, or the things I don’t necessarily want to do but must. Obviously, reading for my history class and doing my laundry are productive activities. However, that leads to a contradiction in my view of productivity in that I can technically be productive on a Monday night without studying for my physics exam on Tuesday morning. So, there’s an integral element of prioritization within productivity as well, but I think that also goes without saying.
In any case, looking at productivity from a wider perspective can help us nurture our existing interests and find new ones as well. This is especially important in a time like now. I know I can’t be the only one who has occasionally gotten bored over this longer-than-usual winter break. So I’ve been searching for something that actively engages me — an activity that consumes my mind so that I don’t realize the time is passing. Luckily, I have found quite a few of these, including baking chocolate tortes with my mom, learning new songs on guitar and watching “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix.
Eventually, I went through my limited supply of worthwhile movies on Netflix, and I just couldn’t consume another slice of chocolate torte — I mean, I could but I shouldn’t. I struggled to find something else. Then somehow, I ended up reading books again — something I honestly hadn’t done for pleasure since I was in elementary school. However, I wanted to enjoy my free time rather than waste it, and reading allowed me to do so. Ultimately, I think that’s what a holistic view of productivity is about — actively using time that benefits you in some way.
In the end, our time is our own, and it is up to us to choose how to use it. We shouldn’t feel obligated to constantly scour Handshake or bury ourselves in a textbook, and there’s no shame in doing nothing sometimes. After struggling through the last month of the semester, I set aside a day to literally do nothing and it felt fantastic. I could argue then, that doing nothing that day was productive for me. So going forward into 2021, just remember — your productivity is defined by you, and not the other way around.
Mario Rosales is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.