On May 8th, I let out a sigh of relief. I completed half of my college experience. With my sophomore year ending online, it was a little disheartening that we could not make more memories on campus, send off the seniors, or take finals in-person (well… I don’t mind the last one). With the whole COVID-19 crisis still going strong, all of us still remained at home for the safety of others. Our days became the same. No routine. No schedule. No plans.
I quickly realized, “What am I going to do now?” The last month and a half was filled with online learning, group projects, and open-note exams. But now, summer became a blank slate. Thoughts and questions started to fill my head. When would things open back up? Would I still be able to get a remote internship? What can I do to make my resume look good? And then the dreaded question came to mind — how will I be productive over the next three months?
5 Guitars a Week
For those who had the privilege to study or work from home, the word “productivity” had become somewhat of a trend. All of us want to achieve our “peak productivity” with all the free time that we had. Headlines of How to Stay Productive at Home or 5 Ways to Boost Your Productivity started to soar. (And I’m no exception here. I’ve been trying to soak in all of Thomas Frank’s tips and tricks.) But then something hit me. I’m watching so many YouTube videos and reading articles on productivity, but most of them never gave a definition to the word. So I decided to look up the word “productivity” for the first time…
productivity noun 1: the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services
We often use the word productivity to explain our day — how large the results were or how better the outcome was compared to the previous day. This makes us focused on becoming results-oriented instead of process or people-oriented.
Here’s a simulation to really understand what the above statement means. Let’s say you make and sell custom guitars as a side business. You usually make and sell 5 guitars a week. But one week, you make and sell only 1 guitar. Would you say that you were productive that week? You might say that you were less productive than expected. How would you feel? Possibly sad or frustrated that you did not produce the results you wanted or as much as you had hoped.
But let’s add in another variable in this situation: Your main job is a salesperson (for whichever company your heart desires) and you made your highest sales that week than all the other weeks in that year combined! Would you say that you were productive that week? Although you only made 1 guitar, you spend the time of selling the other 4 guitars in making more sales. Overall, you might say that you had a productive week because the results from sales outweigh the lost revenue of the 4 guitars.
It seems like a simple example, but it shows how we often pigeonhole our outcomes based on our goals for the duration desired.
We tie our day to how productive we are by measuring our results for the day. This is useful in a professional environment when there are tangible ways to measure your output — if you closed a project, built a number of products, or sold to a number of customers. However, it becomes harder to explain how productive we are when there is no tangible number or result that we are working towards. Would you say you had a productive day if you attended your parent’s 50th birthday party? How about if you spent the day learning how to cook a new dish? Or spending the day visiting the city with your friends?
Changing Your Perspective
I recently read an article called Project Quarantine: Redefining Productivity, in which the author gave an interesting insight into replacing the word productivity with worthwhile. The article says, “We measure our worth by what we can produce… Everywhere we look, our society equates being worthy with being productive. However, we have to remember that our measure of worth during this quarantine will not be the number of projects we complete. Perhaps though, we can use this time to produce the best versions of ourselves.” (Highly suggest reading the full article!)
And it makes sense. Personally, I have days which I produce a lot of results and feel like I achieved so many goals. Other days, I feel as if I don’t do anything and let the hours pass by. But instead of thinking of each day as productive, I began to look at if my day was worthwhile.
worthwhile adjective 1. to repay one’s time, attention, interest, work, etc.
Worthwhile is personal. It’s dependent on what drives you every day. It could be learning something new, feeling at peace, developing relationships, eating healthy, etc. Try this exercise: I know I said not to think about the outcome, but for a second, think about days where you achieved the most results. Now work your way backward. What make you become so passionate to create those results? What was your physical, mental, and emotional state? What made that day the ideal day?
Worthwhile Leading to Productivity
All of my successful days have one thing in common: I was in a positive attitude! :) For example, I put emphasis on my emotional well-being. If I begin my day by feeling good, I will most likely have good results and achieve what I set my mind to. If I begin the day on the wrong foot, more likely than not, I will put off tasks that are not as urgent. Hence, I consider my day worthwhile if I am able to stay in a positive mental state throughout the day. I tried this exercise for a month and I directly saw the results. When I woke up with a positive mindset, my quarantine days much more relaxing and fruitful. I didn’t strive to produce results, they just happened themselves. I spent time working on side projects, talking with friends, and reading (something that I always wanted to do). On the other hand, when I woke up worrying if a black hole will swallow the earth, my day was already done. I spent the day watching TikTok, random Prime episodes, and went back to sleep.
Our days don’t only have to rely on the destination but rather can rely on the journey. We don’t always have to measure our days by how productive we are, but how worthwhile we made it. Instead of becoming focused on the results, we will focus more on relationships, well-being, personal development, and happiness. And I think Oprah might just be the best person to encompass this thought-process…
“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance, and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” – Oprah Winfrey