Union’s productivity trap: a New Year’s resolution to do less


By Julia Hotz

Week three is upon us and I already find myself immersed in “the trap.” I am utilizing Upper’s to-go containers so that I can attend that club meeting, “catching up” with an old friend as I have him or her walk me to my next “obligation,”  color-coding my Google calendar so that every half-hour of my “free-time” is used “productively.”

Such “productive behavior” is a good thing, right? It’s good to be hard-working, to live ambitiously and to squeeze in every opportunity that we can in these four short years, right?

Sort of.

The problem is that we accept “productivity” to be a good thing without thinking about what it really is. Indeed, the literal meaning of “productivity” begs a simple and essential question that we often overlook in its execution: what is produced?

For economists, it is often a good that is being produced, and discussions of productivity often concern the means to such an end. For instance, Karl Marx talked about the production process in the context of shoe-making; he contends that a shoe-maker who controls every part of the production process feels far more satisfied and less alienated than a shoe-factory worker involved in only one part of the shoe’s production,  who rarely sees the whole shoe that he is making.

Thus, in applying this logic to ourselves, we must ask what our productivity is producing; are our classes, clubs and obligations conducive to building the whole shoe, or do we engage in such productive behavior to fulfill a step in the assembly line?

Our environment makes us susceptible to the latter productivity. We are anxiety-ridden, job- or internship-seeking,  GPA-boosting and résumé-building. Yet we must remember that these metrics are not reflective of the whole “us,” rather they are reflective of one step in the “us-process.”

Thus, while I do not doubt the importance of being hard-working and ambitious, we must give ourselves room to be other things; we must free ourselves, reflect more and let our productivity coexist with (rather than overpower) our creativity.

Indeed, history and science have demonstrated that our 20s are a critical time to be creative; Isaac Newton was 20 when he created a new branch of mathematics, Steve Jobs was 21 when he co-founded Apple Inc., and Cyrus Hall McCormick was 22 when he invented the McCormick reaper (which, lest your high school history class failed you, was a machine that allowed one man to do the work of five — talk about being productive!)

These geniuses made their mark before the days of Google Calendar and LinkedIn; rather than accepting that productivity would harvest creativity, they trusted that their natural creative energy would harvest production. Rather than being productive to satisfy a step in the process, they ensured that their every move was conducive to building the whole Issac, Steve and Cyrus.

Thus, consider this article my New Year’s resolution to do less; to be less productive and to be more creative, to put less energy into my grades and more energy into my learning, to work less on my résumé building experiences and more on my Julia-building experiences. After all, if I were an employer, I’d rather give a job to someone who has done fewer things, but done them more genuinely, than to someone who has done everything, but does not understand why.

Perhaps I am wrong about this theory, and I’ll spend my post-college days working at McDonald’s, wishing I’d taken that extra class, gotten that internship, joined that club and dedicated myself to being productive. But I doubt it. Instead, I’ll probably look back and wish that I’d appreciated the sunshine more with Rosie, that I’d drank more tea with Nika, that I’d jammed more with Annie and that I’d laughed more with Bottin. I will probably look back and wish I had thought more about building the whole Julia. Our college years are too precious to spend them being productive.




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