Comment Writer Issy Griffiths argues that the Coronavirus pandemic is revealing the British obsession with productivity

Written by Issy Griffiths
History & politics student
Images by Marco Verch

Is quarantining at home amplifying our obsession with being productive at all times and constantly ‘achieving’ things? 

The last 4 weeks has seen the UK forced into a state of ‘lockdown’ to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. In this unprecedented situation compelling everyone to stay in their homes, UK citizens effectively have no choice but to slow down and pause for a minute. Something that is apparently totally unnatural to us. 

As a nation, generally we Britons seem to be constantly in a rush;

As a nation, generally we Britons seem to be constantly in a rush

relentlessly trying to push ourselves to do or achieve ‘more’- whether this be to get the latest promotion, to lose weight or finally learn Spanish like we always said we would. This is perhaps even more pronounced in the student community with the constant pressures to get involved in more societies, apply for more internships and work experience, do those extra readings for our courses, as well as constantly seeing friends and going out. In short, we definitely face pressure to ‘make the most’ of student life and its opportunities. Obviously these are all good things, but with such a fast-pace of life it is also just as important to be able to switch off and take a breather from our hyper-productivity.

Nations like Italy, Portugal, Australia and Greece are much better at relaxing. All of these repeatedly feature in rankings of the top 10 most ‘chilled out’ nations across numerous studies such as that done by Lonely Planet. So what is their secret to being so ‘zen’? Well, many regions within these nations are considered to have markedly slower pace of life than in say Britain and America for instance, meaning less stress and more time to see friends- both of which likely help to assist relaxation. Perhaps via quarantine the UK is getting a flavour for this slower pace of life which though may seem a little frustrating to start with, is probably well-needed. 

Indeed when the lockdown measures were first introduced, for many of us it was hard to shake the perpetual feeling of guilt: guilt not to be ‘using this time productively’ in the form of an internship, getting ahead with university work or even getting into better shape. However this probably isn’t the most healthy approach to take. There is enough worry in our current climate as it is without us placing unnecessary pressures on ourselves to constantly be achieving. We can always do more. But accomplishing as much as we can at all times is not always conducive to happiness.

Accomplishing as much as we can at all times is not always conducive to happiness

Don’t get me wrong, of course there is something extremely satisfying about managing to tick off everything on our ‘to-do’ lists, in fact there is scientific backing behind this, but there is also definitely something to be said for knowing how to switch off from the pressures.

This is something I think lockdown is helping to teach us. That sometimes it is okay to completely neglect your ‘to-do’ list and to just relax and sit in the sun all day. What’s more, the restrictions are forcing us to redirect our energy away from work and take up hobbies that we would usually be far too busy for, to include drawing, reading and baking – which can surely only be a good thing.  Perhaps it is reminding us that we should all be making more time in every-day life for the things we enjoy that aren’t necessarily productive.

For now, for the majority of us non-essential workers and students who are lucky enough to have this time, let’s try and shift the mentality from feeling like we should be ‘using’ it, to ‘enjoying’ it as much as we can. Life is long and there is plenty of time to ‘achieve’ things and ‘get organized’, but the talent of being able to compartmentalize and ‘switch off’ from the chaos that may be uni work or job related is definitely one worth perfecting. I think this would surely help us to lead happier, more care-free lives.       

More on productivity culture:

The Pressure to be Productive