It’s Wednesday afternoon, I’ve gotten through today’s ‘to-do’s’ sooner than expected and now I’ve a hunk of free time at my disposal. Finally, I can spend the time I’d usually spend scrolling through Twitter and TikTok, minus the guilt! Then the idea of getting a head start on tomorrow’s to-do’s crosses my mind, it makes sense, it’ll give me more free time to… get a head start on Friday. So many head starts, why then, do we often feel like we’re falling behind or struggling to ‘catch up’?
Speaking with friends nine times out of ten the response to ‘how’re you doing?’ is usually followed by an exasperated sigh followed by any ‘stressed’, ‘tired’ or ‘up the walls’. I am massively guilty of this too. I’m chronically busy at the best of times but I’ve come to notice that this is not because there’s a need to be but rather because I feel compelled to do so.
I am incredibly guilty of taking on tasks and projects to fulfill that compulsion. Oftentimes it serves as a way to offset the guilt that arrives when comparing ourselves to how others project their lives and their ‘business’, to distract ourselves from something much deeper that we’d rather not attend to – or both. At the foundation of it all, I’ve discovered, is a deeper connection between our notion productivity and our concept self worth.
Within capitalist society it’s ingrained in us that our worth as human beings is dependent upon the value we produce. The only justification for down time or what would be considered laziness is when you’ve reached your absolute limit (cue, burnout) otherwise you should just use your time to produce more value.
An obvious example of this is traditional employment. If you don’t have an upstanding job with good pay that affords you the fantastic life to go with it we’re told we’re just not trying hard enough. The solution? Assume personal responsibility, work harder and do better.
This narrative of putting in the ‘work’ is partially true, if you want to become a chef, you need to put in the hours to learn your craft. But, it’s disingenuous to assume that there aren’t other social factors such as gender, race or socio-economic status at play. If you’re working class you’re less likely to be able to access the same opportunities as those who are better off due to limited access to the right institutions and social networks. If you’re a woman trying to enter a heavily male dominated field – it’s even more difficult. No amount of ‘hard work’ is going to break down the systemic inequalities preventing your progression.
But, our notion of productivity spills over beyond the realm of employment and into our personal lives too and can be deeply connected to our notion of self worth. This is most evident in how we measure our ‘free’ time and what actions are most valuable to spend it on.
In recent months we’ve all found ourselves with a little extra time on our hands and many folks embraced the opportunity by taking up new hobbies – running, baking, crafting. Our approximation of how ‘worthwhile’ our endeavours are often come from our understanding of how ‘valuable’ they are within the context of our society, particularly in terms of how commodifiable they are.
Take creating art for instance. ‘Oh I used to love painting as a kid but I could never do it now, I’m not anywhere good enough’ is probably a sentiment many of us have probably come across, from ourselves or friends. Oftentimes when we try to define something as ‘good’ it’s usually in terms of its value within a capitalistic context (rather than our own joy or accomplishment). We are often quick to dismiss the product of our time, even if it has a personal benefit for our own happiness or well being, if we feel it’s not ‘worth’ something in a capitalistic sense. Our interests and pursuits can be ‘good’ in the sense that they make us feel fulfilled and bring us joy.
We need to challenge this notion within ourselves when it arises. This is easier said than done of course, it requires a certain amount of self awareness and the luxury of having any free time in the first place. That being said, we needn’t be riddled with guilt when we find ourselves with nothing to do, nor let that guilt or compulsion manipulate us into going against our own self interest of wellbeing in the name of productivity. This isn’t to say this is a cop-out of missing your essay deadlines or putting off your to-do list. But rather, turning how we approach our time and intention on its axis.
As humans, we only have the capacity for handling so much. Our justification for taking time to ourselves should not have to be that we’re at the edge of our tether. We have a responsibility to ourselves and our own wellbeing to set boundaries so that in turn we can be the best version of ourselves when we *do* embark on new projects and, to make time for endeavours that are just for ourselves and our own enjoyment.