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Toxic Productivity – Tara Bell, age 18

Toxic Productivity - Tara Bell, age 18 image

Updated: Sep 1

Isn’t it OK to take time out?

Toxic Productivity - Tara Bell, age 18 image

The large amount of time spent at home over lockdown has helped me realise a lot of habits that I have developed throughout my life, as I have time to overthink my actions and why I do them. I have realised that I have been taught to view rest, in the form of watching films, napping, or even reading, as unproductive and an inefficient use of time, whereas working is time efficient. This would lead me to feel heavily guilty whenever I wasn’t doing work and feel a sense of achievement if I did work for a long time, regardless of its quality.

This was similar for most, I think, during the first lockdown, where posts over social media would be asserting the importance to use this time wisely, whether it be to start a new fitness regime, or complete various FutureLearn courses (of these I was compelled to do two), master a new skill or learn a new language. This may have resulted in the feeling that, regardless of how many were tasks completed, more should have been done, and these unrealistic expectations may have provoked restlessness and mental discomfort.

I think it could be argued that this also ties into the capitalist structures in our society; we are constantly bombarded with adverts online, inducing the need to base self-worth on the degree of tasks we complete or new products we try. Companies thrive and profit off this impulsive need to constantly be productive, as it means they can sell a myriad of products to us that we may not even need or really want. Further, people such as entrepreneurs or students who assert the extent to their die-hard work ethic and lack of sleep are constantly seen to be rewarded in society, whereas people who are resting or setting realistic, achievable goals are often overlooked. This mindset can be extremely toxic, especially in situations like a global pandemic, as, to add to the anxieties about the virus, there could be intense feelings of guilt if we haven’t used the time effectively.

The extent to which I am susceptible to ‘toxic productivity’ became very apparent to me over the Christmas holidays, where, despite being quite burnt out after school ending, as I’m sure most people were, I would still try to sit at my desk for the entire day, attempting to do work. But, as I often was not feeling motivated or in the mood, I would end up doing around an hour’s worth of work in 3 hours, or just re reading the same notes, hoping they would go in. After failing to work productively, this meant I would try for longer, which would again prove to be a futile attempt. This became a vicious cycle, as trying endlessly to do work would cause exhaustion, and this exhaustion would cause an even larger inability to focus. So, this ‘toxic productivity’ would ironically mean that the more work I did, the less I was getting out of it.

Alternatively, if I were to view rest as imperative to a healthy routine, and not something that would inflict guilt, then I would have ended up gaining a more productive mindset. It is important to realise that, regardless of what you may see in the media, your worth is not based on how many tasks you complete in a day or how productive you are; the aspiration to be constantly productive is not human.


August2021: Tara’s results were cause for celebration (3 A*s), pictured here with her proud Mum.

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