mental health

[OPINION] ‘Productivity’ is still a myth, even after this pandemic is over

Marguerite de Leon
[OPINION] ‘Productivity’ is still a myth, even after this pandemic is over
'[W]hat I fear is that when the world starts opening up again, people will believe that they no longer have an excuse to rest or space out anymore'

A piece of advice that continues to float around in these strange times is that we should stop worrying about productivity. That we are in an unusual, stressful, dreadful point in human history, and we need to be kind to ourselves and not be obsessed with keeping busy just because we have to stay home. (Those of us privileged enough to not have to leave home for work, that is.)  

It’s advice I agree with and embrace; people are starving and dying in droves, and it honestly means nothing whether you got a lot of work done or made a sourdough ube cheese dalgona basque sushi bake, or didn’t. Yes, you can be productive if you want to be, but you shouldn’t feel bad at all if you’d rather stream a show, or take a nap, or read a book. 

But what I fear is that when the world starts opening up again (though when the Philippines will participate in this, who the hell knows), people will believe that they no longer have an excuse to rest or space out anymore. Worse, some may even rationalize that they need to cram in even more work than ever before, since they need to make up for all that “wasted” time on lockdown.

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So, while I know that this seems a little premature, given that the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel is a fraction of a pinprick for a Filipino like me, I’d like to point out that productivity will still be a myth, a construct, an illusion, even when we’re back in our offices, mask-less, sucking in each other’s microbes like nobody’s business. 

The precariousness and unpredictability of our lives will remain unchanged. Pandemic or not, our time will always be valuable – and not in the way we were taught to believe. It is valuable not because it allows us to make more output, but precisely the opposite: because it gives us the opportunity to just enjoy the world while we still can, instead of fulfilling the bizarre, man-made condition that only busy lives with concrete products are worth anything. 

In fact, we should be even more accepting of doing nothing if or when we survive this pandemic. Now that we understand how our world can be so viciously upended overnight, and that we can literally be healthy one day and strapped to an oxygen tank the next, it should be clear to us that when we have free time, we should enjoy it.

It’s a bit macabre, but I try to use a deathbed scenario when I’m deciding whether something is worth doing or not. I imagine that I’m moments away from croaking, thinking back on how I lived my life, and if the thing I’m planning to do at present is something that my future dying self would think was a waste of precious time, then I’d at least think twice about doing it. And more often than not, the acts that fall under this “waste of precious time” category include doing office work on days off, and basically doing things just to prove to others (and Instagram) that I didn’t sleep all day or binge whole seasons of a show in one sitting. 

Because the thing is, I love taking long naps. I love obsessing over the next Nordic crime drama. I love reading books on the couch until my eyes get heavy (which means nap time again!). Why deny doing these things when I have the time to? Why call it free time, or leisure time, or a day off, if it’s spent feeling bad that you’re not responding to emails?

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It’s okay to be lazy when you have time to be. Because chances are, the moments when you’re not lazy – when you’re actually at work, or tending to your loved ones’ needs – entail more than just physical energy, but mental sharpness, emotional maturity (also known as superhuman patience towards terrible people), and tons of empathy as well. After hours upon hours, days upon days, of participating in this bloodsport that is “being a human of worth,” you really do deserve to take all this pressure off your shoulders for a bit. 

What’s more, free time is a rare privilege to begin with. For you to read this and relate to it means that you are not like many others – those juggling multiple jobs just to keep their families fed, or those begging for morsels of employment after being laid off. Don’t squander this privilege just because you feel pressured by society to be more, to do more, to grind, to push, to hustle. There’s a reason they’re called buzzwords – it’s all empty noise.

It’s true that once we are past this pandemic, we are past an unusual, stressful, dreadful point in human history. But the world after that, as with the world before it, will not be immune to hardships, and sacrifices, and injustices, either. It will remain a world where burdens are heavy and expectations are high. However, it will also be the same world that offers great beauty, laughter, and peace – but only if you take the time off for it. – Rappler.com

Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Life and Style, Entertainment, and Opinion sections. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for six years. She is also a fictionist.