The Type of Productivity Almost An Entire Generation is Missing Out On
There are two kids of productivity and almost an entire generation is missing out on one of them. The two kinds of productivity I'll be defining here are superficial and meaningful.
Google dictionary defines superficial as "existing or occurring at or on the surface," and "appearing to be true or real only until examined more closely."
What do I mean by superficial in relation to being productive? I'm referring to the so-called productive time spent working toward superficial things, such as a to-do list full of chores, errands and mundane tasks. It also includes the things we fill up our schedules with that have nothing to do with being in the present moment, but everything to do with being able to enjoy the present moment at a later time. This could be personal growth courses, financial seminars and meetings, and for a lot of us, the majority of work for which we get paid.
Alternatively, Google dictionary defines meaningful as "having a serious, important, or useful quality or purpose." In the context of this post I will also define it as real and tangible. This kind of productivity could be having meaningful, thought-provoking and heartfelt conversations, moving our bodies, spending quality time with loved ones, reading a book for pleasure, spending time in nature, being creative for fun or just being present and doing nothing at all.
The key distinction is that superficial productivity has us focus on things directly in front of us and in our heads, such as our computer, and deals with processing information and thoughts. On the other hand, meaningful productivity has us be immersed in the present, fleeting moment, interacting with the world and people around us. In other words, meaningful productivity gets us out of our heads and into real life, which passes by with each second. Meaningful productivity energizes and inspires us, while superficial productivity leaves us feeling drained and usually lacking in inspiration.
I want to express that both types are important and necessary, it's simply that they've become very out of balance. For example, we need to do our taxes — something that would be considered superficial productivity — but organizing and worrying about finances in a way that consumes a large chunk of the day is not meaningful and takes us out of the present and into our heads. We disengage with the real, happening-right-in-front-of-us world and get consumed in the fantasy world of how our finances will be improved in 5 years and what needs to happen to get there. Taxes are important, but not meaningful. Time with family is meaningful because it helps us grow and brings us joy.
As I look around me I'm realizing that the millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) is chronically deficient in meaningful productivity. The problem is that we don't see meaningful activities as productive, but rather a luxury that we can't afford because time is sacred and our goals will slip away if we aren't working toward them every waking hour of the day. Time truly is sacred and for the most part, we’re using it the wrong way.
How did we get here? Millennials were born in a time when all kids got gold stars and praise so that everyone was treated fairly, which meant working extra hard to excel and stand out. Technology started to develop more quickly than ever before, which for parents, meant not needing to force their kids outside to play. The quick fix for a bored child was, and often still is, the power button on the TV remote. I don’t blame them, we could be really annoying. We had it pretty good, I won't lie, and there are positives and negatives to the way we were brought up.
As millennials became adults, the imbalance of productivity types became more extreme. It became the common sense for each high school graduate to apply for college or university. "Don't worry, if your program isn't a good fit you can just drop out first year and correct course! Not sure what you're passionate about? Take a year off to travel the world and reflect on it, because it's probably the only chance you'll have to travel anyway."
A student loan bill of $26,000+ later and we're thrust into the "real world," with little actual training of how to operate within it and the encouragement to apply for as many jobs as it takes. We even settle for unpaid internships if we have to. As long as we’re the first one to show up and the last one to leave our value will be rewarded, eventually.
Flash forward six months and the interest-free grace period on our loans is over (a luxury and debatable right that the government of Ontario is sadly terminating), and with societal pressure to pay off our debts, buy a car, find a suitable partner and get married, purchase a home together and nail down that career — all before the age of 30 I should add, because that's prime baby-making time — now we REALLY have to kick it into gear!
What does all of this look like superficially? 60 hour work weeks pulling in income from at least two sources, making minimum payments on loans, having as little fun that costs money as possible, browsing dating candidates on an app because there's no time for real-life connections, driving a car that could fall apart any minute, impossible to win bidding wars on already overpriced homes, and crying — a lot. Is this beautifully painted picture the case for every millennial? Possibly not, though I strongly feel that each of us can relate to at least some of it.
What does it look like meaningfully? Not very much. Maybe seeing sleep and an 8 minute shower as the only me-time that we can enjoy.
The other week I had plans to meet up with a few girlfriends for the day and then have a sleepover. One of them couldn't make it because she felt overwhelmed with life and wanted to stay home instead, she told us in tears. The other two who did make it expressed multiple times how much they "needed it," almost with an expression that said "if this day of fun and freedom didn't come soon I really would have lost it!"
I often see young people like myself having wars over busyness and how little time they have for themselves, a war that no one really wins — all while scrolling through Instagram in their spare 5 minutes, longing for the seemingly perfect life of their favourite influencer, posed on a beach with a dairy-free latte in hand, perfect body, hair and happy to be alive. They think to themselves "They've made it. They've done the hard work and now they're reaping the rewards. I just have to work a bit harder." I've been stuck in this trap myself at times.
To top it all off, self improvement has never been a stronger industry. The need to constantly be doing some form of personal growth leads us to add more things to our schedule like courses and reading lists. We're constantly in search of our most effective and happy selves as we deny and oppress who we really are, right at this moment.
Did previous generations have it easier? Not necessarily, and in fact probably not. The challenges of past generations were only of a different variety, a different social disease.
What's the solution?
Take a look at your routines, schedules and habits and be brutally honest with yourself. Ask a friend or family member if they think your life is balanced. Then work to incorporate more meaningful productivity into your day-to-day and notice how it makes you feel. Notice how it actually makes you more effective, effecient and energized when you work on the superficial tasks.
It's my hope that when this generation has kids, we raise them to find a balance of the two kinds of productivity. That we'll prioritize family time, time in nature, self-reflection, fun and leisure. The to-do list and setting ourselves up for success in the future are important, but only if you will actually be around and present to enjoy it when it comes.
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