Before TikTok jump-started my caffeine addiction I never really drank coffee, but even before that I really enjoyed the feel of coffee shops (pre-pandemic at least). I liked the bustling feel of it, that everyone had a job, that everyone is so busy I could sit there and go about my life undetected. The focusing hum of people moving, milk being steamed and the chatter of people all gave the small, uncomfortable, industrial-style Starbucks that I love this undeniable sense of productivity.
Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself wishing for this area back. To be able to sit in a Starbucks and get a bunch of work done. I had found myself daydreaming about this, usually when I should have been doing said work. But why? Why is it my little burnout brain, running on far too many TikToks and far too little sleep, is seeking this strange high of feeling like I’m getting something done? The funniest part is that my brain will only accept a certain ‘type’ of getting things done. Let me explain.
My Monday was a struggle. I did class in bed, which despite its allure is not always the best decision. I did not work, usually on my phone while the teachers talked, and hadn’t even gotten breakfast. When the last of my three classes were done I found my day empty ahead of me and the desire to lay in bed all day was strong. My initial thought was to workout, thinking that this would give me the dopamine hit I needed to get school work done in the afternoon. That this would power me through the rest of the week…and maybe it would have. Maybe I would have written this column yesterday on something much more important. But the mere thought of that much work had me scrambling back to my weighted blanket and TikTok.
It was at this point where I decided that no real work was getting done. I would not be starting the massive to-do list I made last Friday, I would not be meeting the goals I had set for my week. So with that I began to look around for anything I could do to accomplish something. I decided that I would start with a shower. Not to gross anyone out, but I hadn’t showered in three days and I felt gross inside and out. From there I decided that my room was in deep need of a feng shui change. I wanted my desk moved so I started that. This isn’t to say that I did any of this fast or efficiently; I took many breaks. At times I found myself staring at the wall unaware of how much time had passed. I did my laundry and cooked my family dinner. And at the end of the day I still didn’t feel like I had achieved anything. I felt ashamed of the time I had wasted. The end of my week would be filled with work and no time to get the school work done I needed to. But I had done a lot. I had gotten important things done, even if it wasn’t school work and I should be proud of that.
This is what people mean when they talk about ‘toxic productivity.’ It’s really easy to get swept away in the YouTube productivity train. To buy into this idea that if I’m not working towards some goal, something that the broader society has deemed important then I have done nothing, then I should be ashamed. And that sucks. There are so many things that I love that will never be considered ‘productive.’ The joy of watching a really good YouTube video. The feeling of lying in bed for hours after I wake up. These are things I enjoy and would like to one day enjoy without shame and guilt of needing to get things done. Getting my laundry done is just as important as working out or doing english homework. I don’t know if, when the pandemic is over, coffee shops will hold the same allure of false productivity, but at least now I’ll be able to go there and order something more impressive than a Chai Latte.