Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Events & Initiatives, Camila Mercado.
Productivity, as defined by the Cambridge dictionary is “the rate at which a person, company, or country does useful work". As a university student, the goal of productivity is always on my mind. Whether it be studying for tests, planning events for my extracurriculars, or getting a workout in, I am always trying to do the most with my day.
For me, productivity is measured in results: How much did I sweat? How many readings did I do? How many errands did I run? Curiously enough, I tend to incorporate self-care and mental health into this productivity checklist as well. For example, how many self-care activities have I done this week?
Did a face-mask
Took a nap/ break from school
Made some art
These things might not seem like examples of productivity. Perhaps you even believe this self-care list entails the opposite; a break from productivity.
However, if we look back to our definition, productivity is “the rate at which a person... does useful work". All these self-care activities are meant to be “useful” to me. The more I take care of myself by using all the tools available to me, the better my mental health will be: self-care will give me tangible results. Being aware of how self-quarantine could negatively affect my mental health I started to keep a daily routine consisting of a half an hour workout, journaling and meditating in order to productively take care of myself and obtain my result: mental wellness.
Well, guess what. I did not obtain the results I was expecting. I began to show a lot of physical symptoms that were brought on by anxiety, which I have never experienced before. Suddenly, I wasn’t being productive in any way. I saw people around me being productive by taking on new projects, becoming entrepreneurs, getting a full-time job, or by slowing down and taking care of their mental health. It seemed like everyone around me was achieving something. This is when I realized that I also understood self-care in terms of productivity. I wasn’t being productive like many around me professionally and I also didn’t feel productive in terms of self-care because I didn’t feel well. This only made me feel worse as I am someone who likes being productive and is up for a challenge. So, why couldn’t I do that this summer?
Well, I came to a conclusion that it wasn’t that I had stopped being productive but that my productivity looked different.
Productivity is not necessarily tangible or visible.
If an employer comes to me and asks me what I did in the summer of 2020 I cannot say that I did an impressive internship or engaged in a personal creative project. What I can say is that my body and my mind fought every single day despite the anxiety, despite the physical pain, despite the limited resources I had to feel better. I fought to never give up on myself. Sometimes that fight was visible: calling friends, going for a walk and baking my favourite cookies. Some days my productivity was invisible, it was just me getting through the day the best I could even if my best was crying all day. I have no proof or tangible result of my summer productivity other than myself. But, if you ask me, I can’t think of a better example of productivity than the time and energy we spend on ourselves when every day seems like a battle. It’s not that I wasn’t productive this summer, I was struggling. I was productive this summer because I struggled, and if fighting for myself every day is not “useful work” I don’t know what is.