You’re not getting out of this alive. So what’s the stress? Why do we feel the need to fill our schedule with productivity all the time? Western society encourages us to work longer hours whilst boasting about it. And if you don’t, you feel lazy and unworthy of happiness & leisure time.
If we are unduly absorbed in improving our lives we may altogether forget to live them. – Alan Watts
Note: Regardless of the current trend to hate on 9-5 and refer to it as the rat race, You CAN, in fact, feel fulfilled and satisfied. Working isn’t the problem. Because an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, rather, it’s working too much and feeling the pressure always to be productive, that’s the issue. Where does this feeling of needing to be productive stem from?
Why we feel the need to be productive
I could see why people enjoy complaining they’re busy; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon.
Telling ourselves and others that we’re busy serves as a kind of existential reassurance. Your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial, or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
When we feel busy, we feel like we’re winning at life—like we’re doing something right and maximizing our productivity.
But our insistence on staying busy can have damaging effects on our mental well-being: More stress, exhaustion, burnout, and an inability to focus on the present.
The antithesis to busyness is idleness. But who would dare do nothing in today’s world of 100mph? If you want to be happier, you should learn to be lazy without the guilt. Because idleness with little to no schedule is not just an indulgence; it’s to the brain as vitamin D is to the body. Deprived of it, we suffer from impaired health and function.
But how do we voluntarily take this time out without the all too common guilt and anxiety brought on by not being productive?
- Find your balance.
This is much easier said than done. But the process of finding this is always continuous, always changing. Accept that fact and find your balance anyway. Because it’s a universal law – Ying and yang; Chaos & order.
You need to dance between the middle of the two with the occasional dip into either side to 1) Learn just how capable you truly are and 2) Not to burn yourself out that you forget how to enjoy the leisure and smell the roses that life has to offer. When was the last time you went for a walk without a podcast, for instance?
- Focus on less.
There’s no such thing as time, only prioritise. So focus on less with greater effect, and you’ll reap the simultaneous benefit of the higher quality output of work AND less stress from a mind cluttered with too many things to manage.
- Design your life.
If you don’t have a clear plan on how you will spend your downtime, you will find yourself in shallow multitasking – On your phone, podcast, scrolling through social media whilst eating. This doesn’t give your mind the proper Yin to the Yang. You’re not recovering and reenergizing yourself from the arduous work that we’re all too guilty of doing too much of.
Me personally, I have 3 weeks of productivity in which I do rounds of sprints of deep, meaningful work. Then, I take 1 week off the gas by removing myself from my typical work environment.
Often I’m met with the anxiety of not being as productive as I can be, but I have to remind myself, as should you, that this is needed for me to work at my best and that you do not define your life by your work, it does not define you.
There is no instruction manual to life. But I know that one of the best investments you can make with your limited time here is spending it with people you love. People on their death bed often say they wish they hadn’t worked so hard, that they should’ve spent their time doing more of what they loved for the sheer joy of doing so.
Beware the bareness of a busy life – Socrates