An Example of Toxic Productivity

One of the features I read every day in the Washington Post is the advice column. Sometimes I just scan them because the questions aren’t of interest to me. Sometimes I find questions that I can relate to. Today I found one that compelled me to share it on Facebook and write about it here.

The article is here – Carolyn Hax: Couple agreed to be ‘productive’ during the pandemic but only one followed through

In the letter asking for advice, the guy is complaining that his wife did not follow through on their decision to fill the extra hours they had due to working from home to be productive in ways they couldn’t before.

He brags that he read 25 biographies while complaining that she “only’ read fantasy novels and calling them “books better suited for children”

He brags that he learned new languages, started a running program and is marathon-ready, and did volunteer work.

She said she was rejecting productivity culture and didn’t feel like improving herself right now. I can relate.

He does say that they share housework, cooking, and other practical matters and that she does exercise. So, she isn’t reading her ”kid” books while he does all of the work around the house.

Still, he says he is disgusted that she would “waste” this gift of free time “watching TV and reading books better suited for children”

He wants her to go to therapy and be evaluated for depression because she doesn’t want to run a marathon. learn new languages, and read “real” books.

When asking for suggestions he says “other than divorce” which means he has considered divorcing her because she doesn’t want to do what he considers productive. On the online version, she says there was an update and they did divorce after a couple of sessions of marriage counseling.

The problem here isn’t that he read biographies, learned languages, ran, and volunteered. It was that he found someone who didn’t disgusting and considered their activities a waste of time. That’s the problem with the cult of productivity. They aren’t satisfied with being busy themselves. they want everyone around them to stay busy as well.

When I left my job, one of the concerns of others was that I would spend too much time “sitting around doing nothing” The problem was, these people consider reading “doing nothing” I felt this pressure to the point that I feel guilty when I read in the afternoon.

When I see people when I leave the house most of them don’t ask how I’m doing. They ask what I’m doing. I feel like I’m expected to justify how I’m spending my life since I don’t have a “real job” Writing doesn’t count for them unless I am writing a book or have something published.

I would disgust the guy who wrote the letter because I read fiction books. I watch TV. I didn’t learn a language(though I did recently learn where all of the countries of Africa are on the map). I don’t spend all day every day working on self-improvement. I believe in rest.

The pandemic should have been a time when we kicked the productivity habit, but I think it only got worse. It amped up the competition in the productivity Olympics and if you didn’t play you were the biggest loser.

If staying busy makes you happy, you do you. Just leave me and my fellow slackers alone.


24 thoughts on “An Example of Toxic Productivity

  1. This is a great post. That guy sound nuts! At the end of the day, we are human beings not human doers. We need our down time. We can’t always be uber productive. To quote Winnie the Pooh, “Sometimes doing nothing leads to the best something.” I think most of us have been conditioned to believe we have to be striving all the time. I also believe the real reason many of us keep doing is to escape the gremlins that surface when we sit still.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Interesting. I recall being asked by my therapist why I was doing so much stuff. She was concerned that I was afraid of being alone. It was a good question as it was my first time living alone, but I was just loving having time to myself so I could choose what I did with it, and what I did was the things I’d long wanted to do. Once I’d done those things, I started to slow down and smell the coffee. Mind you, I always made time for reading. Good post Tater.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. She’s well rid of him. I didn’t feel compelled to do any self-improvement things. I kept on doing things that I liked and enjoyed, which was reading, stitching, cooking, and watching TV at night. I’m sure there are people who would think I wasted a great opportunity. As long as you and I and that woman are doing things that bring us joy, we don’t need know stinking productivity challenge. Judging people’s reading tastes is particularly nasty and uncalled for.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post. I agree with LA that she should be the one asking for a divorce. Also, I found with all my free time that I wanted to do less. I have to accept that. I quit freelance writing for trade magazines because I didn’t find joy in it and wasn’t proud of the articles. I had all these ideas of what I wanted to get done, but I lacked motivation.

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  5. I want ranting about this to my therapist yesterday. The claws of ‘HUSTLE CULTURE’. God I hate this word hustle. Whatever happened to just being in the moment, eyes closed, and just existing, taking one thing at a time and not rushing through every single thing. At 23 I feel so guilty as I see all my friends working 24/7 and me relaxing with a book after a long day. Anyway I am happy that I came across this, it will make my reading time a little less stressful xD
    Thank you!


  6. Wow, I would leave that guy soo fast he sounds like a nightmare to be around! I appreciate this post a lot. I relate when you talk about people thinking you’re not being productive bc you don’t have a real “job”. Some of my family look down on my choice to stop working a regular job and instead pursue my passions. It’s hurtful but I know some people are just close-minded.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for sharing! He sounds terrible. He did things we enjoyed during the pandemic, good for him! So did his wife, no reason to shame her. I feel like COVID gave some people a time to slow down and rest and others time to accomplish what they want. I feel like I was in the middle, but I agree. There’s so much emphasis on producing and accomplishment and not just enjoying things and living in the moment. I honestly just want to read a good book after a long day.

    Liked by 1 person

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