Last week, I passed my fifth-year exams and became a final-year medical student. It made me realise something. In my pre-clinical years, I had always done nothing ‘productive’ with my summers and just used them as massive 4-month periods to binge every TV show under the sun and hang out with friends. As I entered my clinical-years there was this sudden drive to do as many ‘productive’ career-building activities as possible during the summer, often taking on more projects than I could chew. It meant that my free time was massively reduced.

Retrospectively, the summers I felt were unproductive were in fact super productive, here’s why and why the term productivity is misused.

The Explanation

The term productivity is often used as a measure of your output. The more you get done in less time, the more productive you are said to be. It is therefore easy to define this output in terms of things that are more visible e.g. a work project, an essay, a number of errands, etc. What is less easy to appreciate visibly is your mental health, wellbeing, energy levels, so on and so forth. Therefore, as absolute productivity thieving junkies when we want to be productive we focus on the former activities rather than the latter — because then we have something to show.

The Personal Realisation

Acknowledging this, after I finished my recent exams I did ‘fuck-all’ for about a week to put it frankly and just chilled out. This, in fact, turned out to be a super-productive act. I was able to replenish my energy stores, allow my mind and body to heal from the traumatic experience that is studying for medical school exams, I found my passion and excitement for designing/writing hit the roof, making me want to get back into it more than ever before.

Finally, I was able to think more creatively, it wasn’t a case of ‘shit I need something to write about’ but rather wow why have I not written about X, Y, or Z. This level of free, unpressured thinking does not come from time-urgent pressured scenarios as are most cases when we try to be ‘productivity’ junkies.

The Actionable Points

Thankfully, we can all take practical sabbaticals — daily, weekly, or monthly breaks where we try to be productive in the not-so-visible domains of life.

Three commonly occurring environments spring to mind:

  • Commute - this can be a perfect time to journal, read, or just stare out the window. This opportunity often happens twice a day providing ample daily time to work on your mental wellbeing or just take a break from life.
  • Exercise - whether at the gym or outdoors running, this serves a great moment to work on your physical health and allow the mental mind to relax.
  • Nature - something great that’s happened over the last 6-months is I now take regular long-walks into the park, not only for fresh air but to disconnect with a busy life. This is massively healing when I’m feeling stressed or anxious.

Be unconventionally productive at least a few times each day, week, or month, it’s genuinely great. But don’t label these as unproductive moments when the very act of focusing on the non-visible aspects of life is a super productive thing to do.


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