In defense of productivity

Aakash Athawasya
4 min readApr 17, 2020

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

Stress + Rest = Productivity | Source: HBR

As we all sit here in this time of forced isolation, with our only constant companion the internet, there is an opportunity, compelled albeit, for improvement, of mind and body beyond proportions we’ve seen before. Yet, there seems to be a growing animosity towards it, telling people it’s alright to not use this time for betterment, and allow yourself to slip away.

Locked-up, self-isolated, but still capable of work, with only technology connecting us to the outside world. The internet is a great leveler, you see, it provides the same service to a person in a mansion, and to a person in a hut. It allows you, within a few minutes, to access a massive amount of information.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to learn, to improve on, to connect with, is literally at your fingertips, the only trade off given to access it [apart from the infrastructural costs, which hamper access in several regions] is time. We’ve never had the time to pick up the skill we’ve always wanted to learn, read those books or watch those documentaries on topics we’ve wanted to explore, reconnect with people we’ve wanted to, write the article we’ve always had in mind, or other aspects of forced and sometimes uncomfortable creativity, which was always within us, yet we never had the capability to set free. Now that we have the time and capability why are we complaining about it?

The ‘war on productivity’ as seen in the world right now seems almost absurd. The stern cries on social media crying it's not a ‘productivity contest,’ that the incessant need to do something worthwhile and good with this unused time and unspent energy is turning ‘toxic’ and we should all take some time to just relax, is a way of easing the mind into thinking — you don’t have to be creative, healthy, productive, or rather, you don’t even have to try.

Productivity has been given a bad reputation lately. It has come to mean an obsessive amount of work, in a competitive spirit, for a monetary gain. That’s not all that productivity is about. You do not need a job or a family to be productive, all you need is willpower. The willpower to say ‘today I’m going to pick up a skill, or read a book, complete a course, or talk to someone, or just sit in silence with my thoughts.’ Anything that makes you better in the long run, either by gaining competence or clarity is productive. Deciding to engage in activities that make you better on a time scale longer than the next few hours or days is the difference between what is ‘productive’ or what is not.

Self-isolation is a highly leveraged event. During times like these, every activity we engage in is multiplied ten-fold because its either out of sole accessibility, passion, or necessity. It’s a good time for building habits that we want to keep. Habits, during isolation, are hence easier to build because it’s cultivated in a forced environment, everything is conscious, deliberate and nothing is left to chance. Building such habits with a long-term goal and keeping in mind your post-pandemic routine will allow you to become better in whatever sense you want to.

We’ve been given this time as a caution, but it's not to say we shouldn’t make the most out of it and work hard, read more, learn more, and better understand the world around us, or ourselves, improve our job prospects or, if not anything else, have something interesting to talk about. Its a gift we must use to make ourselves to be better than we were before the lockdown began.

It's fine to say this should not be treated as a race against another, rather it should be treated as a race against yourself; how can I be better than I was yesterday? Isn’t this the attitude with which we should go about our everyday life? For those who shrug and say no, being better is not the sole purpose of life, and we should be laid back and relax, especially at a time like this, those people are missing the point of what being ‘productive’ is all about and how times like this should be treated as an opportunity for betterment, not to crawl back into your shell of comfort. At times like these, you should strive to get ahead of people, or yourself, in whatever race your running, not discourage people from running at all.

Keep an eye out for those people who cry out that this is not a productivity contest, at times its the same people who suggest that you do not have to be better than you were yesterday, because “we’ll love you the way you are.” But what if we need to get better? What if we need to get smarter? What if we need to pick up a skill? What if we need to get fit? Times like these will only exacerbate being lazy, passive, and incapable and we must do something to stop it. Now’s the time.



Aakash Athawasya

Writing as opposed to keeping the thoughts locked in my head.