This was the book I needed to read today, the book I needed to read during this pandemic. You see, when the world closed its borders and everyone was forced to stay inside their homes, social media erupted with so many pressures on productivity. People who used to lose hours in daily commute now have more time in their hands. Those who work at home do not need to wake up two or three hours early before the start of their work. They can simply go to their makeshift workspace at home, boot up their laptop, and start working.
For a while, there was this mindset that time saved can be used pursuing something grand or great. Social media was awash with quotes like: “If you don’t come out of this lockdown with a new skill, knowledge, better health, and fitness, you never lacked time. You lacked discipline.” My newsfeed was filled with people posting their new fitness regimen at home, their new baking or cooking skills, and certifications from whatever online course they finished. And there I was finally turning off the TV after a weekend of binge-watching a K-drama or coming out from the deep after reading a novel. I felt guilty that I had spent an entire weekend with no tangible output. The world did not become a better place because I finished reading a book. My life did not improve because I finished a K-drama. I didn’t have a name for this guilt until I saw the title of this book: productivity guilt. Ah, I said to myself, that’s what I’ve been feeling all along, especially during the weekend when I have 48 hours of no work. I needed to let of this guilt.
This book tells me that’s okay if I didn’t do the thing today. It’s okay if I didn’t save the world or learn the theory of everything. It’s okay if, after this pandemic, I still don’t understand quantum physics. This book tells me that it’s okay to disentangle myself from a culture that measures my value in productivity. I have to learn to accept that doing nothing is okay, too. I didn’t need to feel adrift if my days are not filled with grandeur and achievements. It’s okay if today the greatest thing I ever did was fold all my clothes from the laundry. (It’s a tedious and repetitive task for me.) I don’t need to focus on what was left undone and feel guilty about it. I also don’t need to compare myself to what others have done—especially what they post on social media, because, as the book says, “I’m comparing my behind-the-scenes with someone else’s highlight reel.”
The book teaches us to accept our days as an empty canvass. Sure, routines are nice. They give shape and structure to our days. But if things don’t go according to plan (because some days are like that), then we don’t need to feel guilty about not finishing everything on our to-do list. In fact, our to-do lists can add pressure to our days. There’s a tendency to stack and optimize our days with a lot of things to do such that when one thing falls apart, everything falls apart and our days unravel. Instead of feeling guilty about it, the book tells us not to pass judgment. It’s okay for our days to be simply occupied—not optimized. We need to let go of this idea that our worth is tied solely to our productivity, accomplishments, or titles. It’s okay to reject a promotion to a leadership position because we know our passion lies in the work we already do. Titles do not correspond to success.
We should allow ourselves some downtime, some idle time. After all, it is in these moments of rest that can yield insights and meaning. Archimedes was taking a bath when he exclaimed “Eureka!” He was not doing anything of great importance really, but it was during this moment of rest that he understood that the volume of water displaced is equal to the volume of his body that was submerged. Einstein may have his annus mirabilis in 1905, but that was a product of years of stops and starts, of wondering and imagining the possibilities of physics, of idle days followed by productive days, and so on. The book tells us not to succumb to the immense pressure of doing things quickly, of being an overnight success. “Why are we rushing to finish something, just to have nothing on the other side of it?”
If like me, you are also struggling to be always productive, then this book is for you too. There are a lot of insights here that may just work for you. Instead of having a rigid daily schedule, this book says, learn to wobble through our days. Swap the hard rules for elastic possibilities. Be creative with your days no matter how cyclical it feels. Not every day will be productive—and that’s okay. If nothing important or productive happens today, learn not to pass judgment on it. “Trust the timing of things—trust the timings of your life” as the book says. What did The Little Prince tell us? No, not just the “what’s important is invisible to the naked eye” quote. The Little Prince says, “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
Chris Daniel has written on Wattpad, yellowpads, and notepads. A few of his articles are in the dusty archives of Inquirer’s Youngblood and Philippine Star’s My Favorite Book, while one story got lost among the Kindles on Amazon. He works as a Systems Administrator by day and a recluse at night. You can reach him on Twitter @cd_loza and Instagram @danmloza.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]