While I am an ardent advocate of productivity — I strive to make the most of each and every day — I am also a firm believer in self-indulgence, relaxation, and restoration. Productivity involves getting things done, while rest and relaxation require quite the opposite. A bit counter-intuitive? Not exactly.
Make no mistake, productivity is awesome. Completing tasks, accomplishing goals, moving forward in life. However, there is a dark side of productivity, which lies neatly tucked away behind a cloudy veil of accomplishments.
At some point amidst the flurry of productivity, you will need to recharge your batteries. It is inevitable. At this point, productivity declines rapidly. Mental exhaustion ensues as your cognitive muscles begin to atrophy.
Of course, when regarding cognition, muscles are nonexistent. Rather, the human brain is comprised of a vast network of interconnecting neurons whose connections govern everything from behavior to language acquisition to abstract thought.
During periods of intense concentration, our neurons are firing fiercely. But neurons cannot maintain such rigorous activity indefinitely. Such concentration, as is typically required during periods of productivity, can only be maintained for so long before your brain needs a break.
So why, as a society, do we encourage pushing through the mental fatigue in the name of a higher purpose, an overarching goal? Perhaps it is the grind. Or it’s simply following your passion. Or, as described by Andrea Duckworth in her noteworthy novel, grit.
Whatever the underlying motive, it is increasingly clear that such a lifestyle is not only ineffective in the long term, but unsustainable. Working as many hours as possible, often at the expense of restorative sleep, inevitably leads to exhaustion and burnout.
It irks me endlessly to see the inundation of self-development articles preaching various versions of unhealthy, unsustainable advice–all of which claim to hold the secret to success. Wake up earlier — not 6 A.M., not 5 A.M., but 4 A.M!
Get up, get going, and don’t stop! Log as many hours as you can until you pass out. Even then, keep going! What about self-reflection? Taking restorative breaks? Simply taking time to relax and do nothing?
It appears that our society has become obsessed with productivity. Such an obsession wouldn’t be a bad thing, if it were expressed in an appropriate manner. However, putting productivity above all else, including rest, wellbeing, and self-care, is entirely futile.
After all, isn’t the point of being productive ultimately to achieve some higher goal? Whether you seek to make more money, establish your career, enhance your intelligence, or achieve more flexibility in your lifestyle, all these aspirations become inconsequential when you allow your lifestyle to devour your life.
Working endless hours does not equate to endless productivity. On the contrary, the human mind and body have finite capabilities when it comes to working against the clock. We can only be productive for so long before our productivity begins to decline. And decline it does, rapidly, until we are left exhausted and entirely burnt out.
So when you find yourself blurry-eyed and feeling the pangs of exhaustion that inevitably come with hard work, do yourself a favor and take a break. Rest, relax, and restore. You will be glad you did.