How To Take A Break From Your Productivity Mindset

Updated: Mar 12

Palwasha A. and Tahmina R.

Graphic by ThePvblication

How can we collectively move away from a productivity-at-all-hours, capitalism-driven mindset that prevents us from experiencing both true rest, and true pleasure, along with a myriad of other incredibly beneficial experiences and emotions?


When this quarantine hit, I was one of the privileged few who were in a position to be able to look at this new indefinite time alone as a break, rather than an extremely stressful period. I thought about all the things I could finally do without the distractions I put in my way. I could write a book that I’d been putting off for so long, learn how to make a website, start my own business, get a jump on the next month’s worth of work…


I didn’t think once about using this time to reset my head and experience true rest until I came across some advice that I didn’t need to use this time to be even more productive. It was time for a much needed break, but it turns out I didn’t know how not to work.


Why do we need true rest?


True rest and pleasure are the primary activities of daily living; they aren’t a novelty or luxury, but rather a requirement of general wellbeing. True rest is not what many of us experience on the daily. After work or uni or finally being done with so many of our other commitments, we zone out in front of a movie while not actually watching the movie, spend time on our socials or dive into a deep and weird vortex of Youtube squishy makeovers (yes, it was me).


When we talk about true rest here, we are defining it as either genuinely relaxing or partaking in activities we actually enjoy, for no reason other than our enjoyment of them, or to build your skill in them. These can take the form of reading, painting, exercise, woodworking - it can be anything. Generally, these “true pleasure” activities require more involvement and a greater time commitment (at first glance) than their much shorter “entertainment” equivalents, like Youtube or socials. These “entertaining” activities are not defined as true rest or true pleasure because they work as entertainment rather than providing any sort of fulfilment.


Why do we need to discuss this?


In our society, we tend to define ourselves by our productivity and how efficiently we can monetise all our free time, often due to need, but also for more superficial reasons that we rarely examine. Work can become an addiction and while the importance of working and particularly, of performing meaningful work, cannot be overstated, the value of rest, meaningful rest, is much less appreciated. The boom in the wellness industry indicates how desperately people are looking for a way to achieve true rest. This can be seen in the increase of book sales advertising spiritual mindfulness in a workaholic world and the millions of downloads on meditation apps.


In the autobiography of her life, writer Elizabeth Gilbert discusses this phenomenon in dealing with her depression, citing as an example the glaring difference between advertising geared towards Americans and Europeans.


“For me, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of... guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American… the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness. Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat... You deserve a break today! Because you’re worth it! You’ve come a long way baby!


Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture [for example] where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life.” I can’t remember a time in recent years where I’ve given myself an actual break and felt that I had been fully deserving of it, a time where I didn’t need to get any work done or do better than my best.


How can we overcome this?


A good way to begin to overcome our productivity-at-all-times mindset is to sit down and assess how we currently use our free time. If you can’t remember the last time you allowed yourself to have free time, then your problem runs much deeper than this article can help with.


If in doing this, you realise that the majority of your free time is spent thinking of how to make use of it for future gain or monetise it, then you need to reassess the way you rest and invest in learning how to achieve true rest and true pleasure. Some of our writers during this quarantine period struggled immensely with having extra time to use as rest and one of the ways that they overcame the procrastination and limbo-state that this produced was by making a list of methods to build some healthier habits during these uncertain times.


Here are some things that you can try during this time to build healthier practices with how you seek true rest and pleasure, which will then lead to a myriad of other beneficial experiences.


  • Avoid filling free time with entertainment for distraction; rather use your breaks doing something that fulfils you. You will often notice that the time exchange is the same, but the benefit is much greater.

  • Be mindful of when you spend time in your designated home work spaces if you’re not doing work. Remove yourself from the space physically and allow your mind to take a break, rather than indulging in distractions.

  • Also remember that often, truly giving ourselves a break comes from doing the tasks that are actual self-care, like cleaning your space or finishing off overhanging work.

  • To break the monotony of days in self-isolation, try some new experiences to break up your week. Here are some fun examples: read a book in a genre you wouldn’t usually reach for, try out a new recipe, start bullet journaling, play a game with the family, try propagating some indoor plants, start a blog for fun… your house is your oyster!


The necessity of ensuring that we rest properly and enjoy our time off is in bettering our quality of life. If your desire is not to be the cliche of the corporate exec who takes a vacation and then can’t concentrate on relaxing, then you’ll benefit from assessing your mental space, especially if you’re in a privileged enough position to do it during this time of widespread isolation.


We hope you’re taking care of yourselves during this period and that you invest in some true rest, and develop good habits around it that you make sure last.

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