There’s one attitude that seems to unite all Oxford students, transcending colleges, from historians to scientists – and no, it’s not a hatred for Christ Church. Perhaps it’s something even worse than Christ Church: toxic productivity. That sense of always needing to do something inhabits the streets of Oxford (and intercepts the endless Teams calls), telling students that downtime just isn’t for us.
This article is a perfect example. Whilst I enjoy writing and often find it relaxing, I’m not sure why ticking ‘Cherwell life article’ off my to-do list is so much more satisfying than lying on the sofa and re-watching Bridgerton. After a chaotic second week filled with essays, I’ve been left with a weekend with not much to do. My third-week work hasn’t been set, so alas I cannot spend my Saturday watching 4.5 hours of economics lectures – a real tragedy, I know. Instead, I’ve been gifted a day with no looming deadlines and, because of lockdown, nowhere to go. I therefore found myself this morning at a bit of a loss. Fortunately for me, the Cherwell editors had a solution to my woes – a Life article to write? Another thing for my to-do list? Perfect.
Perhaps a to-do list perfectly embodies what I’m trying to describe. Personally, I am a massive fan of lists and would recommend them to anyone with paper and a pen. Not only do they ensure I remember what I actually need to do, but they also split it up, so that even on lazy days I can tick something off. They also make me feel productive. A day where I‘ve completed three tasks is a success, even if they were only ‘pay my battels’ or ‘send that email’. I feel I’ve been productive, every single day, even if my productivity is really a wishful illusion.
This guilt surrounding days where you haven’t really done much is definitely the ‘toxic’ in toxic productivity. Oxford terms can be so busy, with essays, events, and extracurriculars, that a day with nothing to do seems odd. Even worse, a day where you haven’t done anything seems like a massive error. I always feel a certain sense of guilt when I haven’t got much done in a day, considering it a day wasted. The absolute worst days, however, are when you haven’t even relaxed, you’ve just done nothing. When you’ve been writing your essay but also not really writing your essay – spending more time reading Facebook than your actual reading. It gets to the end of the day and it’s just been pretty unsatisfying. The solution to this common conundrum however can be found in the best phenomena of them all: organised fun.
Organised fun is a fundamental part of any productivity addict’s timetable. Organised fun has not quite made it to my to-do list yet, but I feel when you have a busy Oxford schedule, organised fun means that fun time is genuinely fun. Organised fun means actually enjoying my time not working, rather than wasting it on my phone. In Michaelmas, it meant a walk around Christ Church Meadows with a friend, a quick dash to Pret, or a fake Christmas formal in my household. Hilary Rochelle’s organised fun has tragically had to take it down a notch. The woods behind my house now substitute for Christ Church Meadow, my kettle acts as a replacement Pret, and Christmas formals are a distant memory.
Lockdown hasn’t just made organised fun harder, but it’s also made productivity more toxic. Before Coronavirus it was the pressures of Oxford making productivity a nightmare, now it’s everywhere. It’s in articles detailing ways to stay busy in lockdown, on TV when people detail the incredible feats lockdown has finally given them the opportunity to do, and somehow, it’s also made its way to TikTok. Lockdown has given some people a unique chance to do something special, but for the rest of us, it’s just been pretty hard. Having nothing to do puts pressure on us to do something, even when all we want to do is watch TV without feeling guilty. In Lockdown 3.0 I’ve learnt to expect less of myself. I no longer feel like I’m wasting my time not learning French or baking more banana bread and I’ve accepted the beauty of organised fun.
So please, Dear Reader, ignore the recent Oxfess complaining that they only managed to do 10 hours of work today, and instead take a break. Watch some TV, go for a walk, do something creative, or maybe just don’t do anything at all. But most importantly: don’t feel guilty. I know I’m going to do absolutely nothing after finishing this article – once I’ve ticked it off my to-do list.