Jain: The costs of the “productivity mindset”

Priyanka Jain, Staff Writer

Does anyone else have this dilemma where they simply cannot allow themselves to relax after days of hard work? 

It is an issue that I have been tackling for a while, but especially since I entered college. This is a restless feeling of needing to continue moving and optimizing every hour of the day to produce maximum output. I have developed this so-called “productivity mindset.” All I think about is what more I can do for others and for my career, rather than what I can simply do for myself. 

This is a habit that I have had ever since my freshman year of high school, when my grades and extracurricular activities became commodified; their values solely appraised by how good they looked on my college resume. From that point on, being a third-year pre-med student now, that toxic mindset has not gone away, but has only been exacerbated due to the increasing pressures pre-meds go through. 

Speaking from my experience, students are forced to become exceptional jugglers, having to divide time and attention to several responsibilities at a time. In this day and age, medical schools, for instance, require pre-meds to have impeccable grades, strong leadership, impactful extracurriculars and expensive research experience. With all these boxes to check, on top of other daily responsibilities, I can’t help but be trapped in the “productivity mindset.”

But the “productivity mindset” is more bad than good as it has led me to directly associate my self-worth to the amount of work I produce. But with this line of thought, I often devalue myself or feel “behind” from others when I’m not maximizing every hour of the day. When I finally have a break after weeks of scarcely sleeping and neglecting my health due to a bevy of exams, I find myself thinking about what I should do next. I become restless when I should be resting. And occasionally, I find myself pondering who I am without the stats and grades. When I go to do something, I find myself asking the question: am I doing this for the brownie points or because I genuinely love and want to do it? Truth be told, sometimes I find it difficult to answer that question. Maybe it could be because I let my identity become entangled with capitalism and the competitive attitude it fosters. I find myself completing activities and choosing roles that will give me the greater boost in this greedy society we live in—I have internalized capitalism.

Living in a competitive college environment where capitalistic success is often the goal for many students, it’s hard not to internalize capitalism. It is hard to allow myself to relax and discover my real interests and identity without thinking about my resume or my stats.

Moreover, I think it is especially important to realize that this addiction to productivity is not solely on individuals, but stems from the works of an everlasting ideology deeply ingrained in the foundation of society. Internalized capitalism can be attributed to the puritan work ethic, a concept penned by Max Weber in 1905. It was a belief system that associated hard work and success with salvation; diligence in one’s work was regarded as a form of worship to god. This train of thought is what led to the cutthroat capitalism we see today. Thus, this systemic belief of hard work has been circulating in people’s minds for above a century. So it makes sense that it would be hard to disentangle from a belief that has invaded the human psyche for so long. 

It is essential to actively realize that being idle at times is good. It’s a time when you can pause and self-reflect, and it is an opportunity to explore your identity. We may often fall into the trap of using work to feel useful and valuable (both extrinsically and intrinsically), but we should differentiate between extrinsic value, the value we bring to others or society, and intrinsic value, the value we give to ourselves. It is crucial to realize that one’s extrinsic value does not equate to one’s intrinsic value. In other words, society’s perception of you has no relation to the value and love you should give yourself. Remember that you are valuable no matter what you have achieved or failed in, and no one can take away the worth you give to yourself.