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The Problem with Our Understanding of Productivity

Productivity is defined as “the state of producing something.” Practically speaking, it is often used to define efficient use of our time to that leads to some sort of beneficial output. In our society, the standard of productivity has been one that has led to a lot of self-guilt around taking time for self-care. We’ve come to believe that if we aren’t seeing a tangible benefit to where we are putting our energy, we are being unproductive, lazy, or even that we have become useless or worthless.

This black and white thinking of productivity has become harmful as a society and is reflected by the state of mental health. Slowly, the corporate world is realizing this and starting to adapt. Companies have adopted “nap pods” that allow employees to take a 20-minute break in the day to sleep. Some corporate offices now allow employees to take their dogs to work or have on-site gyms, yoga classes, or recreation rooms. Many companies have tested moving some of their staff to 30-hour work weeks while still allowing for full-time benefits. With these initiatives, the business world is starting to understand and navigate the relationship between self-care and work productivity. As a working society, we are testing a notion, in real-time, that employees who feel better about themselves and their environment at work may work harder and achieve better results in the workplace.

That takes us back to you! You may not get the ability to work in an environment like these, but you can create a homelife that better supports you. When it comes to our mental health, one of the first things we throw out is our own self-care. We feel less motivated and have less energy and that leads to some activities getting dropped. We throw out hobbies and interests that feel “unproductive” or we limit how much time we can spend in them thinking that it’s just us being lazy.

We need to start treating our self-care as inherently productive. This may be time spent journaling, exercising, reading a favorite book or watching a favorite movie, meditating, gardening, napping, resting, shopping for clothes you like, decorating, singing, or practicing an instrument. These activities can be just as productive for you as anything else you could do with that time. 

So, before you get on yourself for not doing anything productive in a day, look at what you did for yourself or look at what you can do for yourself. Recognize that a little bit of time, in moderation, throughout the day doing the things you want to do is just as important as taking care of the things you have to do. You just may find that after spending some time with those want-to-dos, the have-to-dos are that much more manageable.

Author: Jacob Johnson, LPC
Jacob Johnson graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2015 with his Master’s Degree in counseling after receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in philosophy there prior. He started his counseling work in the field of substance use and co-occurring disorders working inpatient in Flagstaff and Prescott before moving back to Phoenix where he has worked as both an outpatient counselor and a clinical supervisor. He is a licensed professional counselor who has worked extensively with adults, adolescents, and families in the fields of substance use, co-occurring disorders, and general mental health utilizing a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, motivational interviewing, and positive psychology.

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