Had a productive weekend? I’m so glad I was productive today. I’m struggling to be productive. I haven’t done any work today.

When did we start using productivity as a measure of how well we live our lives? It’s easy to trace this back to the world of inspirational/motivational quotes, the American brand of capitalism, and the age of social media. But which came first: our lives being dictated by productivity or productivity dictating our lives?

Like many other millennials, I’ve gone through bouts of severe depression where not ‘being productive’ enough became a Catch-22 situation: I couldn’t be productive because I was depressed, and I was depressed because I couldn’t be productive. I convinced myself that just because I wasn’t working, I was still being productive because I was listening to educational podcasts, watching informative videos on YouTube – capitalism was a plague on society anyway. At some point I started thinking about how my unproductivity was not ‘laziness’ but an act of defiance. I was doing my part to work against a culture that equates success to money, status and fame.

I’m not alone in these self-soothing attempts. During the COVID lockdown, where there were ‘productivity inspiration’ videos and vlogs, there was just as much of ‘look how unproductive I am’ content. And as I whiled away in my apartment, trying to keep my wits about myself, I spent a long time thinking about what productivity actually meant to me. In Marie Kondo style, if it brought me joy, keep (doing) it. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

Which came first: our lives being dictated by productivity or productivity dictating our lives?

Then came post-COVID. The prevalent atmosphere shifted and morphed into ‘make up for lost time by doing even more than you did pre-COVID’. Now that we had all come out of the lockdown, re-birthed and broke, we could focus our efforts towards working extra hard and reaching those goals we had not thought we could achieve. And so the cycle started again.

Productivity is not a measure of anything but itself. It is a term that is used in economics to measure how efficient a system is – input vs. output. And I don’t think it’s healthy, or even relevant, to measure our lives vis-à-vis systems of economy. Our input and outputs cannot be measured the same way a business’s revenue and profits are because they are much more nuanced and fluid. Our lived experiences are not monotonous, rigid frameworks, and neither are our emotions towards them.

Will productivity ever stop being a measure of a successful life? I really hope it doesn’t take another pandemic to get us there. Or perhaps this entire text is just a long-winded, self-soothing exercise anyway.

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