Allow me to name one of those globs. Let’s call it Adam Smith. Adam Smith invented the concept of the You’re Not Being Productive Guilt Trip. As the first economist and creator of the concept of capitalism, Smith believed that we have a moral responsibility to seek more capital, and the way that we seek more capital is by working. Constantly. Productively. Until we have no time to waste on mindless stupidity like Netflix.
Because we live in a capitalist society, Adam Smith’s ideas about productivity remain at the core of our ethical outlook on working. Still, there’s a competing mentality as well, the one that inspires the Buzzfeed articles. We’re in a constant mental battle between these two extremes. But instead of choosing a single side, we need to find a balance.
I’ve noticed recently that we tend to cling to extremes, though. They provide us with a guide for how to act, like how you pretend to be a cultured New Yorker when you’re with people from other states, even though you’re a math nerd who’s barely been outside Park Slope. And that’s not bad -- extremes are a great place to start. But the danger comes when they’re also the place where we end. The human experience is so nuanced and complex that drastic mindsets are often harmful to individuals who adopt them.
That’s what happens with the Productivity Dilemma. If you choose to go the Adam Smith route, you work yourself until you burn out, becoming a pile of ash and regret. If you want to be able to identify with all twenty-three of the laziness tweets, you get more and more stagnant until you’ve turned into a French fry. The productivity extremes swallow you until you’re locked in a coffin built with the bricks of your own terrible decisions.
So the goal is to prevent the coffin from arising, by figuring out the balance that works for you.
Personally, I skew much more toward the Adam Smith side of the scale, and feel crippling guilt whenever I’m choosing not to work. When I’m not doing schoolwork or homework or work for extracurriculars -- work that I need to do, because it’s my job as a person in high school -- I’m writing so I can work on my career. So if I decide to re-watch the third season of Glee instead of writing, I feel that I’m doing a disservice to Future Rowana, who is no doubt glaring at me from afar. She, like Adam Smith, is one of my shame globs.
That said, I’m aware that I’m breaking the speed limit as I careen toward burnout. So I try to allot myself an hour of guilt-free downtime per average school day. This downtime is proportional to the intensity and time-consuming-ness of my workload. On a day when I only have an hour of homework, I spend more time writing. And the weekend after finals week, I’m quite happy to be a French fry. Of course, I can’t completely control how much free time I have on any given day, but I try to arrange longer periods of time so that they’re ultimately distributed according to my work/life ratio.
I also employ a tactic that I call productive procrastination: doing something that’s useful but enjoyable in order to avoid an important-but-daunting task. For example, there are some days when writing a certain scene feels insurmountable but I’ve still got enough free time that the shame globs will start tap-dancing if I don’t accomplish something. So I read articles about the craft of writing or do background research to flesh out my characters instead -- which definitely needs to be done, but takes less mental energy.
My final tactic for finding balance is vacationing. I’m not talking Florida; it’s more the mindset of taking a vacation than a vacation itself. The beauty of vacation is that it’s a bubble, an impenetrable moment sealed off from stress. I find these periods when spending time with my friends and family. There’s no consequence for being either productive or unproductive -- happiness transcends that. And when I’m making myself or others happy, then I know that the Productivity Dilemma doesn’t matter.
Because it doesn’t. Not really. The idea that productivity is necessary didn’t even exist until 1776, when Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. Then the modern anti-productivity movement emerged as a response to that. Both concepts are manmade. So, really, I think the best way of finding a balance is to acknowledge that this entire scale is ludicrous. We don’t just have the ability to choose a side in the Productivity Dilemma; we have the ability to decide that it’s simply not real.
Now, if only the shame globs in my stomach would agree.
This piece won a Silver Key in the 2017 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.