As students, we’re often told that our main focus should always be studying and that it’s the only way we will ever be successful. Parents (especially in some specific cultures) always try to engrave into our heads that if we aren’t studying 10 hours a day, then we aren’t doing enough. Over time, that does nothing but teach us to overwork ourselves while still feeling guilty any time we take a break. It doesn’t take a professional to point out how unhealthy that can be. Yet, we keep denying that toxic productivity is a thing.
Overworking ourselves can lead to physical, mental and emotional damage. Hustle culture has taught us that it’s the only way to achieve long-term goals. But where does it come from? While doing research for this article, I remember hearing adults talk about how young people, especially students, have nothing to stress about. They said this in relation to us talking about how exasperating school can be.
Even when we’re still in school, we are affected by global things. The reason for how competitive the workplace has become is due to the economic recessions we face. The lack of jobs creates a higher standard for the average worker. Graduates need to have more than just decent grades, high schoolers need more than just decent grades, but also a huge list of extra-curricular activities to even be considered at certain universities. Not to mention, part-time jobs to afford these schools, which leads back to the lack of jobs because of recessions. So yes, teens have everything to be stressed about.
This cycle has created a fear that some students cannot cope with. The idea of not getting into a university, not getting a job after graduating makes us work ourselves to the bone.
So, where is the line between toxic productivity and actual productivity?
Accomplishing something isn’t about throwing yourself into a project, it’s about dedicating enough time. Managing time is a skill that everyone needs to learn. This is where the Pomodoro Technique can be useful.
Developed by Fransesco Cirillo in the late 80s, it's a system of setting a timer for 10-25 minutes and only focusing on one task. After that, you take a 5 minute break and then go on to the next task. After four completed tasks, you take a 15-30 minute break. He did include some rules for bigger tasks, so if you’re interested, here’s the link to more details: https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/pomodoro-technique
As I tell my best friend, who is the queen of toxic productivity, breaks aren’t earned. They’re deserved. There’s no reason to feel guilty about taking a break. We actually need them. There is no way that we can stuff information into our brains, let alone expect it to actually help us come exam time. And let me tell you something else: take a day off.
We shouldn’t spend every waking hour working. It is healthy to take a day or two off to have fun, work on hobbies, or even do nothing. It helps our brain stay relaxed, which can even be more effective during the exam season.
Not Feeling Guilty
The most important thing when it comes to being productive, don’t feel bad when you don’t reach your goals. If you take breaks, don’t feel bad. If you take a whole day off right before an exam, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Even when you don’t get the grade you wanted or needed, there’s no reason to think you should’ve done more, especially when you were already overdoing it.
There will be times when others will tell you that you’re not good enough and should’ve done more. So, there’s no need to do that to yourself. In fact, what others say does not matter. You should never aim for someone else’s standards, but rather your own. If, for whatever reason, you were only able to work for 2 hours and didn’t pass a test, that is okay. As long as you didn your best.
Overworking ourselves is dangerous, especially at our young age. We end up losing sleep, developing bad eating habits, and overall just spending our time cramming instead of enjoying ourselves. And honestly? Cramming doesn’t even help half the time. Some people don’t even realize they’re stuck in it. Like most things, actual productivity is something people need to learn how to do.
Give yourself enough time for a project and the necessary breaks to help you flourish.