How To Be More Productive (By Doing Less)

“Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.” ― Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

I remember when I graduated with my Master’s degree, a friend came to me and asked, “So what are your plans now?” This was just the next day after my graduation ceremony. I knew that my friend didn’t mean any harm but it got me thinking. Why are all of us are always thinking about “what next?” instead of just enjoying being in the moment?

The Definition of Productivity

Our society’s notion of productivity is flawed. We are supposed to work hard to the point of exhaustion. We have been taught that the harder we work, the more successful we will be. As a result, we start to take fewer breaks. We believe rest will not give us the results that we want.

We work to the point that often we forget who we are and what we really enjoy in our lives. Mental disorders are high on the rise and while there are many factors that contribute to them, stress and external validation definitely affect our mental health.

I was the victim of this problem too. During my undergraduate, I had made a promise to myself that I was going to make the most of my three years. I joined internships because people had told me that college is the time to experience new things. At one point, I was working for three companies. The University newspaper which required me to work Saturdays and Sundays as the graphic designer. A local publishing house which had asked me to ghostwrite some content for their books during the week. On top of that, I started volunteering at a local NGO as an English teacher. I was doing all this work along with my studies as well as maintaining my social life.

Every week I would find myself too tired. I didn’t sleep enough and I didn’t take enough breaks. I very much started resembling the Dickonsian character, Stephen Blackpool. Blackpool worked in a factory in an industrial-era town named Coketown. He worked so hard that he resembled a machine more than a human. I had become Stephen Blackpool.

Overworking Doesn't Mean You Are More Productive

I didn’t realize at that point in time that I was doing more harm than good. The more tired I was, the better I felt because I thought it was going to make me more successful. This went on not just until the end of my undergraduate degree but also during my Master’s degree.

I could only pressurize myself for so long. Eventually, I broke. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me exactly. I just stopped doing things that I liked. Eventually, no matter how hard I worked, I just wasn’t succeeding. The more tired I got, the more I pushed myself. I wanted to “hustle”. This made the problem worse and within a few months, I had realized that I had spiraled into a mental disorder.

Hustle Less, Relax More

There’s a term that fitness enthusiasts use called “plateau”. It’s when one is overworking their bodies and as a result, the bodies stop giving us the results we desire because all it needs is a break and we aren’t giving it. Our minds are somewhat like that too. A term that has become really popular is called “burnout” which I recently found out is not just a millennial word but a real mental disorder.

My mind desperately needed a break so that’s what I did after my Master’s graduation ceremony. I told myself I wouldn’t worry about anything and give myself a month-long break before I decided what I wanted to do with my life. But even a month later, I realized that I needed more time.

So I gave myself more time.

I stayed with my family. I read books. Many, many books. I wrote in my journal. I painted. I did all the things that weren’t directly going to lead me to success. It was difficult because I had been pushing myself for years and doing such activities made me feel guilty. But eventually, I started feeling better. I wasn’t growing in the way society defines growth but I was happy.

Thrive, Not Just Grow

As Kate Raworth, the author of Doughnut Economics, says, “A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow.” Very much like our economies, we should not only grow and add more things to our CV. We have to thrive in our lives and we cannot thrive if we are overworked all the time. People are adopting several lifestyles such as minimalism, essentialism, etc. all of which are more or less about reducing things from our lives that do not make us happy.

As they say, life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You don’t want to work so hard that you do more damage than good. You need to relax, take a breath.

There are many, many opportunities in the world and trust me, you will have enough time to do the things that you like. But only if you hustle a little less and relax a little more.


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Hi there! I am Vidhipssa. I will help you begin your journey toward embracing the true joys of life.