Toxic Productivity versus The Little Book of Sloth Philosophy
In this column submission, Viviani Adriel writes about the need to gain control against toxic productivity and the pursue of “slowing down”.
Words by Whiteboard Journal
I am an office worker who usually works 8 to 5 from Monday until Friday. Ever since the pandemic, my work has been moved fully to my own house. In the beginning, it was not difficult for me to manage my time and handle working remotely since I’m used to freelance work and juggling time in between workloads.
What I didn’t expect was the dark shadow looming over me gradually, that is called toxic productivity. When I realized I’m stuck in the loop of toxic productivity, a loop of rise & grind, the habits were already formed. I feel guilty when I am not in front of my laptop. I felt rushed when I didn’t instantly reply to the chat or email. My heart beat rapidly whenever I heard the high-pitched tone of the notifications. I felt like a sinner when I took a nap. I was frustrated at myself if I can’t tick all the to-do lists that I planned for the day. I felt rage at myself when I made small mistakes. I found it difficult to sleep since my brain won’t stop working to arrange the tasks I need to do by the morning.
I kept on delaying doing some fun activities, such as watching some YouTube videos or listening to the recommended playlist from my friend. I simply reasoned; I don’t have time. In the back of my mind, I knew that I overworked myself and started to experience burnout, but the shadow of toxic productivity kept on whispering to me, “You don’t have time to think deeply about it, just continue to finish your work!”
One day, after months of being stuck in the loop of always trying to be productive, my friend sends a picture cover from The Little Book of Sloth Philosophy. The accompanying message was, “I think this is perfect for you.” I snooze reading it because, just like every other reason that I postpone doing everything involving relaxing and fun, I convince myself that I don’t have time.
One night, I found it very difficult for me to sleep. Earlier that day, I had already forced myself to enter the bed and turn off the lamp by 11 pm. But I toss and turn and can’t sleep even when I already practice breathing techniques, or turning on the relaxing melodies consisting of white noise, waves, and wind. Then, I gave up and started to find some activities to do. Suddenly, I remembered the pink book called The Little Book of Sloth Philosophy. In the dark, I started to read the book from my phone. The simple words, along with the message, punched me in the guts. I read it in one go and fell asleep shortly after.
I am the person that is being described as the total opposite of a sloth. The book carries the message of being present, enjoying small things, and ditching the concept of speed. The book started with the mantra from sloth philosophy, four tips of slowing down that consist of:
S: Sleep in
L: Leave your phone
O: Opt. out
W: What’s the rush?
In a way, this book is a compilation of Hygge, mindfulness, and multiple psychological terms, packaged in baby words and simple illustrations. A perfect thing for my mind. I’ve read self-improvement or psychological articles and books, complete with deep words and complex concepts. The result? Instead of applying it to myself, I analyze it, researching deeper into the theories, and make my reading into another task to do.
But this simple book made me reflect and applied the steps to myself. Is it because of the comparison to the sloth? The way they are naturally slow and that it is okay to be slow. Probably. I don’t want to overanalyze how this book touched my mind, but the message was loud and clear. It is okay to slow down. Don’t obsess over our online presence and start to really be tuned in: when we eat, when we walk, when we take a bath, instead of thinking about the next thing to do.
I was reminded again of how unbalanced my work life was. Not only working, but I also put a lot of other activities and responsibilities on my plate. I remember a sentence written in an article about burnout. More or less, it stated, “I escaped the burnout and overworked grip, but my therapist bill at the end of the month always reminds me of the scar that it has left.” I was struck with the realization that if I keep on snoozing my rest time (whether it is eating, socializing with friends, listening to music, watching fun videos, or any other things), I could end up on the same route.
The process to regain balance was not easy. It was a rough path since I can’t control everything. Therefore, I learn to manage what I can control, such as my reaction towards something, my perception towards working, my action and my thoughts. Yes, I can’t control if my boss is demanding. Yes, I can’t control if others make mistakes that will postpone the project. Yes, I can’t control if there are accidents in which the Grab driver will be late in delivering my food. But I learn to convince my brain that it is okay for uncontrollable things to happen. Things are bound to be imperfect because we are imperfect as well. It is impossible to do all things perfectly.
I force myself to turn off the notifications sound from some chatting and email apps on my phone. I force myself to take a break from the screen. I learn about the boundaries that I need to make. I walk out of my room, away from my laptop to eat lunch. I force myself to stop thinking about my to-do list when it is past 6 pm. At first, it took a really strict strain on me. Deliberately, I do all other daily things away from my laptop and my working space. I do house chores more often in the evening to force me out of my “cave”.
Just like the old saying, “Man’s greatest enemy is oneself.” I also learned that my biggest fight to gain control back from toxic productivity is against myself. Your work environment or your boss were things that were out of your control, but you can take control of yourself and I focus on that only. Let’s glorify rest, let’s make “slowing down” as the next trend, let’s make “relax” an overrated term.
You don’t need to help yourself improve. You’re probably fine just the way you are: perfect at some things and not so good at others…. Just embrace the sloth philosophy of being good at something-whatever that something is. – The Little Book of Sloth Philosophy, page 83.