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Redefining What It Means to Be Productive

by Stephen Buckley, Product Specialist

When I was in high school, I aimed to be maximally productive. I took as many AP classes as technically possible, put laughably high standards on myself in each of these classes and expected nothing less, and filled the rest of my schedule with clubs and activities of the sort that I could use to get into a good college. On the surface, it worked. I mostly met my personal standards in my classes and I ended up going to Georgia Tech, which I would consider a good college. Beneath the surface, however, this didn’t work. When I strictly prioritized school and getting into college, I under prioritized other crucial aspects of my life like my physical health, my mental health, and my social health. Whenever I did anything that benefitted these aspects by chance, I felt bad about being “unproductive” instead of being happy about the benefits I received.

Entering college, I realized this: the narrow, strictly work-minded definition I had of productivity is wrong. Productivity is broader than just school or work, it encompasses any activity that provides benefit to your well-being and your future. For example, I remember numerous study halls/free periods in high school where I would have a conversation with a friend of mine instead of getting homework done. While I was not being productive in the traditional sense, I was strengthening bonds with others, increasing my happiness, and forming memories more valuable than doing a homework assignment. In retrospect, I realize that those study halls were actually productive, in another way. So, over my first year of college, I again aimed to be productive, but in a more well-rounded, all-encompassing sense. Nearing the end of that year, I can say that having this new goal improved my life dramatically. So, I will now quickly share some ways you can be “productive”, not just in the traditional sense.

Work Productivity

Work productivity is what people like myself tend to associate with “productivity”. This includes work for a job, school, or anything of that nature. While this is important, this is not the only important form of productivity.

Athletic Productivity

Athletic productivity is anything physical that benefits you. Athletically productive activities include sports, general workouts, and even common physical activities like walking. Being physically active is crucial to physical health, both short-term and long-term.

Nutritious Productivity

Nutritious productivity is a fancy name for eating food and drinking water. Having too much schoolwork or whatever else is not an excuse to skip meals; you literally cannot survive without food or water, so there is no shame in taking a break from whatever you’re doing to either make or grab a meal. Like athletic productiveness, nutritious productiveness is crucial to short-term and long-term physical health.

Social Productivity

Social productivity encompasses any conversation or encounter with other people that make us enjoy life at least a little more. No matter how introverted or extroverted, everyone needs social interaction. We are designed to communicate and interact with others, and we must do so to maintain our social health and general well-being. Here’s an example from my life: almost every day, I eat dinner with friends for around an hour and a half. I could very easily grab food in ten minutes and work through dinner, but I instead choose the technically inefficient route. Why do I do this? Because during these dinners, I have conversations and a good time with my friends, strengthening my social health. While I am not productive work-wise, I am socially productive.

Reflective Productivity

Reflective productivity includes any activity that improves yourself by making yourself more in-tune with how you’re feeling, your strengths, your weaknesses, your past week, etc. Reflectively productive activities include meditation, contemplation, and journaling. Since no one is perfect, everyone has an opportunity to improve. One of the distinguishing abilities that we have as humans is our ability for self-awareness and to utilize this to improve ourselves and our lives. Reflection gives us the opportunity to consider not just what we are doing, but why we are doing it. Reflectively productive activities are necessary for growth, so they are just as important as anything else on this list.

Leisurely Productivity

Here’s a quote that I love from the movie “Dead Poets Society”: “...medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Sometimes, we get so caught up in trying to get our work done, staying in shape, and attending to our necessities that we forget to take time to relax and enjoy ourselves. Just as it’s crucial to complete work tasks, have a well-balanced diet, or reflect, it’s also crucial to take time to do things that we love. Whether it’s reading/writing poetry, binge-watching Netflix shows, or simply doing nothing, we all need to take a break from the things that stress us out and to simply enjoy life. While leisurely productiveness seems like the opposite of productivity, it actually is productive by adding meaning and enjoyment to our lives.

Sleepy Productivity

Last but not least, everyone needs sleep. It’s easy to forget about sleep or to under prioritize it, but doing so will ultimately harm you in other areas by decreasing your energy and attentiveness. Consistently getting a good night’s sleep is the first step to living a well-rounded life, not the last.

Reading about all those forms of productivity, you may think, “I don’t possibly have time for all of this!” That is a valid thought, but here’s a fun little fact: those forms of productivity are not mutually exclusive. For instance, take my dinner example from earlier. I’m not just socially productive by eating dinner with friends, I’m also nutritiously productive by eating and athletically productive by walking. There are many ways you can combine forms of productivity to be even more productive, and you can even combine work productivity with other forms as well.

The point is this: if you view productivity not merely as completing homework assignments or making your boss happy, but instead as working toward a well-rounded, balanced life, you will be much better off. I have thought of productivity this way over the past year, and I cannot begin to express how much it has improved my life. While my life has not been perfect, I have been able to strike a nice balance between keeping up with school and work, forming quality bonds with friends, maintaining a balanced diet, and taking time for myself. So, here’s my advice to you: do what you can to be productive in your life, but in the well-rounded sense, not the traditional sense.


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