Stop Being Productive

By Andrei Abarientos, Reporter

Contemporary poet Charles Bukowski, in his poem Begging, described his coworker Karl, a man fully devoted to hard work who performed his job exemplary , as “a weathered and beaten conch.” Ultimately, Bukowski decides that Karl lives unaware “that we were perishable… or that greater gods might be watching.” The average life expectancy of a person is 73 years. For Bukowski, to spend such a minute existence fully devoted to work is absurd and wasteful.


Even then, a work-free life is both an impossible fantasy and, truly, not entirely fulfilling. To properly operate, one must work a job, study in school. Indeed, this article, despite its name, aims not to argue that you should let yourself fail out of school or let your time become mismanaged. But “productivity” is a measure of how hard a person can work, and such a metric is not equivalent to satisfaction or fulfillment. The value, while certainly able to help you complete your homework in a timely manner, need not necessarily be prioritized.


This year, for me and for many, has been a difficult time, to say the least. The previous advice, “work hard so you can play hard”, seems nearly impossible; with every assignment completed, there are three more. Add on top of that jobs, extracurriculars, family obligations, college applications, and the various other things dropped on a person, and weeks can pass where the only break is sleep, which becomes ever increasingly more rare. The only way to relax is to put off work, and as we’ve all been told, that is unwise, foolish, and lazy.


The idea of rest and relaxation is not a new one, of course. But often, there is a reason for this R&R: to be able to work more productively. If you are working hard, take a break so you can go back to working hard. A teacher I have had once lectured us on getting 8 hours of sleep so that “our work does not suffer”. Such things, while not incorrect, miss the point. A person doesn’t breathe in preparation of holding their breath later. They breathe because to do so is vital and crucial to life. Sleep for the sake of your own health and happiness. Rest because you deserve to, not because it will help the quality of your English essay. It becomes increasingly easy, especially as it is pushed forward by school, family, and an overall avaricious culture, to view relaxation as an obstacle towards productivity. However, this mindset is deleterious not just to your work (which, again, need not be seen as relevant here) but to yourself as a person. 


And indeed, a “productive” philosophy will almost certainly become a point of self-criticism later in life. Bronnie Ware, a hospice nurse, published a book titled Five Regrets of The Dying. The book, as evidenced by its title, discusses the regrets of those patients receiving end-of-life care. Chief among these complaints? “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”. It is hard, in the moment, to think the big picture could be anything but grades or college or whatever toil is fully captivating you. This delayed gratification–”I will suffer now so I won’t suffer later”–is common among those unfearing of death. But near the end, most begin to shift their ideals. Joy and fulfillment is wanted in the moment, not later. In work-centric life, “instant gratification” is a pejorative. Putting off your present desires for a greater, far-off goal, is admirable. And while it certainly is a respectable trait, such a perspective often leads to what truly becomes procrastinating happiness. What starts as “I will work so I can be happy” quickly turns into “I will work, and I will be happy later”. The question of when this happiness will come is often purposely ignored. And for many, this happiness may never come. 


So, what should be concluded? In a culture that praises hard work above all else and demands little else than this “grind”, how can one find a balance and ultimately prioritize their own needs against someone else’s conception of “productivity”? The answer is simple: procrastinate. A horrible answer, to be certain, but one that is intrinsic to human nature. Procrastination is an issue that is tackled all the time, through strategies like the Pomodoro Technique or removing distractions from your vicinity. But, at the end of the day, for most people, these “solutions” fail. To procrastinate is a part of life, inescapable and an unavoidable pitfall. 


With this in mind, it becomes obvious that we ought to get the most of this procrastination, this laziness. Again, we all procrastinate, but rarely in the right way. Instead of putting off work to relax, we put off work to stress about the fact that there is work being put off. With a thought process like this, one is both unproductive and unhappy. To procrastinate effectively (productively, if you will), let the work be a problem of the future. As stated by the Stock-Sanford Corollary to Parkinson’s Law(Parkinson’s Law itself states that work expands to the time available): “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.” This philosophy, keep in mind, is garbage from a productive perspective. But productivity is not the be-all, end-all; and for many, leisure often brings more fulfillment than labor.