Rest isn’t a luxury

Make a conscious effort at doing less today

Graphic Sara Salsabili

Which AI software writes essays? How to learn a new language in a week. How to get more done in a day. Digital media platforms are feeding audiences with advice on how to improve one's productivity. On TikTok, every swipe presents the user with yet another self-proclaimed life coach. People who watch this content are told a myriad of ways in which they are completely failing at life and what they should be doing to salvage it. 

There always seems to be a more efficient way of leading one’s existence. However, the only guarantee of this mindless consumption and adoption of high productivity as a lifestyle is self-exploitation.  

Given how often we claim that time is money, it is justifiable to assert that the rise of the toxic cult of productivity is inextricable from the existence of capitalism. The system programs us to equate our value to the amount of work we are able to produce. It incites us  to prioritize our work and always do more. This incentivizes us to seek methods of optimizing our way of functioning to simultaneously work more and gain more time. However, capitalism at its core doesn’t endorse the idea of free time because it doesn’t consider it productive. It has also successfully convinced us that the only real freedom is of financial nature. In so doing, it has turned us all into Sisyphus and has bribed us, by way of exceptional examples of monetary success, into taking pride in the lifelong enterprise of survival under capitalistic domination. 

The impact this doctrine has is insidious as it makes us unable to attribute value to leisure, which is vital to our well-being but can’t be quantified in work hours and an hourly wage. 

The never-ending quest for improvement through the adoption of new habits, or the use of different technologies places one in a dynamic akin to an iPhone. As Apple assumes its technology is never perfect, there are incessant software updates meant to provide a better version of the existing software and enhancing the users experience. Although that might ultimately be fine in the case of a cell phone, human beings aren’t made in the same fashion. Our obsession with productivity robs us of our well-being in very tangible ways because our body requires that we rest to be able to remain well-functioning individuals. 

At a time when the poor state of the economy keeps eroding our sense of stability and freedom, we are more than ever incentivized to increase our productivity. On digital media platforms, it seems the consensus is that individuals should no longer solely rely on their day job but should instead look for side hustles to complement their income to remain able to sustain themselves. After a recent survey, H&R Block found that 28 per cent of Canadians are now taking on side jobs, which results in a 13 per cent increase compared to a year ago.

Although we have all been bestowed free will and are thus responsible for the outcome of our lives, this bootstrapping narrative which has long been touted by capitalism is incredibly harmful. It has successfully displaced a humongous part of the responsibility related to poor living conditions away from the system itself and placed it in its entirety on the individual. Far from being a means to achieve liberation, it keeps us from being critical of capitalism and ensures our participation in the maintenance of this well-oiled machine.  

Increasing our productivity when the system is clearly failing us isn’t the answer. It fuses our identity and our inherent value to our work, and renders us completely unable to enjoy life. Unless the narrative changes, we, the proletariat, are going to tips-and-tricks and side hustle our way into a general collapse there will be no saving from.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 9, published January 30, 2024.