Toxic Productivity & How We Spend Our Days
I used to watch a lot of vlogbrothers videos on YouTube and fell out of the habit in university. Not sure what made me stop, but they stopped being an integral part of my life. That said, sometimes I will glimpse one and get drawn in again, as happened for one of their videos from September 2021. John and Hank Green trade off making videos for each other (and the world) on their channel, and this video, how we spend our days, was put together by John.
He opens the video with a quote from Annie Dillard:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
This quote is from her book on writing, The Writing Life. I have yet to read it, but I’m excited to see if it pulls me in.
The video John put together dives into aspirational capitalism’s insistence that we have an endless number of choices in how we spend our lives, but John notes that often, our constraints are not things we can control, and while we don’t have a lot of choice, we do have some.
This thought then lead John to muse about the difference between the things in his life that don’t look economically productive, but give him the most joy, give him the most personal productivity, such as driving his kids to and from school. Those experiences don’t create economic value for him, but they do create value in the form of connection with his kids, joy, and other unquantifiable meaning.
I’ve struggled for a long time with the fact that my self-worth is tied to my productivity. If I’m not productive, what am I? This video was one of the cornerstones of reexamining the toxicity of that idea for me. First, our experience of our own productivity doesn’t need to look like economical productivity. If you are producing your own joy, or joy for others, is that time spent worth less than the time you spend making money? No, and in fact, is probably worth more.
Second, it helped me realize that if I want to spend my life in a certain way, I need to spend my days that way as well. Putting off life until after some economic milestone is hit is not how I want to spend my life or my days. If I want to love my partner, laugh with friends, write fun stories, eat amazing food, see beautiful places, I need to do that every day, not in some imagined future.
And third, it helped me realize that if I’m prioritizing things such that I’m never engaged with my partner while we have dinner, or I’m thinking about work when I’m walking my dogs, my life will never be spent the way I idealize it.
Over the few months since I’ve watched this video, it has helped me reconcile these thoughts and come away with a better understanding of what I want from life and how I can get it.