I’m Not Obligated to be Productive

"I'm not obligated to be productive"

Right now, I am taking summer classes, working part time, and keeping track of all the spare time I have. I have so much free time right now. Even at my busiest I had a bunch of free time that I wasn’t optimizing. When I realized I wasn’t as busy as I thought I was, I saw all the time I was “wasting” on YouTube, Pinterest, tumblr, and the internet in general. It made me feel guilty about not being this super person who has it all and is always productive. When I started forcing productivity, I was exhausted and not actually accomplishing anything. I only wanted to be productive. This mindset was exactly the mindset I was trying to escape and I hadn’t realized it. I recently came to the hard realization that I was using “busy” and “productive” interchangeably (I have a post here about how I hate the word “busy”). I had simply swapped the super busy lifestyle with a “super productive” one. I think one of the first mistakes people make when they start having free time is trying to fill it with productivity. In Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, And Play When No One Has The Time, she points out that people don’t know what to do with their leisure time and instead they think that being productive or busy is the only way to fill free time. I had to realize through this book and through other mediums, that I am not obligated to be productive, at least not all the time.

Book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Schulte

At the time I thought that if I wasn’t learning, creating, or accomplishing something, I was wasting the extra time I had during the day. I can’t remember when I first heard or read this,it was within the last six months, but I am not obligated to be productive. Especially during my spare time. After reading Overwhelmed, I realized I was wasting my leisure time by trying to be productive.

When I was a kid, I used to spend hours daydreaming, thinking about characters and places in my head. As I got older I did this less and less often until I started feeling guilty for wanting to drift off to daydream at any point of the day. I used to turn mundane daily tasks into an adventure well into my teens, but at some point I stopped. I had told myself it was a waste of productive time to do it anytime other than before bed as I was falling asleep. Let me tell you, my daily life wasn’t exciting anymore.

Sometime in the last month, I sat in bed and imagined a place I would rather be than where I was. I thought of a frozen tundra scattered with medieval homesteads and interesting people. For the first time in years, I have spent the time I normally spend trying to make myself busy, creating characters and stories. My Paracosms (imaginary worlds)  began in childhood and they were actually a large comfort growing up. I knew that those characters would still be there for me to weave stories around after a bad day. I wanted that back in my adult life.

My first novel was based on a Paracosm that I had began developing in middle school. When I worked in housekeeping, I wrote most of that novel and part of another one. I have not been working on writing long stories and because my daydreams weren’t productive, I felt guilty for spending time on them. I denied myself something I enjoyed because it wasn’t productive. As I write this post, I realize how devastating that is.

Why do, or did, I think I needed to be productive constantly? Is it because I was afraid of being lazy? Is it idealization of a lifestyle? Or did I just not know what to do with my leisure time when I had it?

I think it’s a combination of all three. I was afraid of being lazy because I wanted so bad to be successful and successful people are productive and they are always productive. I also equated leisure with laziness. None of these statements are true, yet I believed them. Even after I had abandoned busy from my daily life.

We think people who are busy are successful. People who aren’t busy, probably aren’t successful, therefore they are lazy. Every successful person who documents their lives like YouTubers and social media influencers talk about how they are productive. They glorify the productive parts of their days. There are thousands of videos and blog posts about “things successful people do” and “how to be productive” or “productive morning routine.” It really sends the message that you aren’t succeeding if you aren’t always productive. It’s the same garbage with busy, it’s just a different word. I didn’t want to be busy anymore, but I still needed to be productive all the time. I wasn’t solving the problem.

The difference between productivity and busy is accomplishment. With busy work, you aren’t accomplishing anything. Productivity is the act of accomplishing something either through making progress on or finishing a meaningful task. If I am making work for myself for the sake of needing to be productive with my time, I’m really making busy work. Productivity should only apply to work that is meaningful, and is done in short bursts of time. You cannot be productive for eight consecutive hours a day. You get burned out. I can get 90 minutes of productive time before I burn out and need a break. You simply cannot be productive every moment of the day.

Additionally, I had no idea what to do with my leisure time. I didn’t know how to enjoy relaxing. I had to learn. I am ashamed to say that I spend a lot more time on Pinterest now that I have longer bursts of free time. But with that said, I do use Pinterest to story build and plan characters. I think 90% of my pins go towards secret boards related to stories and characters. I have been spending more time just relaxing, sitting quietly and thinking. Generally the thinking is daydreaming, if not that, its reflecting. I also have been spending my leisure or free time writing blog posts. The other day, I pulled out some water colors and did some painting and it was awesome! I’ve been reading more too. I used to think I just didn’t have the time to read anymore. I was lying to myself. Every time I obsessively cleaned something for the sake of needing something to do could have been spent reading.

Text from book
Excerpt from the Let Us Play section of Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte

I think in the end, when you step away from a “busy” mindset, you also need to realize productivity is very different from busyness and should not be treated as so. I personally had to realize that I did not need to be productive all the time to be a valued member of society. I am not obligated to be productive. I also had to learn how to enjoy leisure time. I firmly believe now, that whenever someone says they can’t stand having free time and they need to be doing something, genuinely don’t know how to enjoy free time and they run away from learning about themselves by making busy work. I used to make myself busy because I didn’t know how to have fun and being busy was an excuse not to deal with grief related anxiety. I think valuing leisure time has made me a better and happier person than I was when I was busy and trying to force productivity. If you think you can’t enjoy leisure time because you need to be doing something, you should take some time to think about what you enjoy. Then take some time and do only that. Stop multitasking, stop feeling guilty for having free time and not spending it being productive. Take some time to get to know yourself. You are not you work, you are a complex human that wasn’t meant to do busy work every moment of the day. You are not obligated to be productive all the time.

How do you like to spend your leisure time?

3 thoughts on “I’m Not Obligated to be Productive

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