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Escaping the Cult of Productivity

Nina Rudnick directs a non-profit that used to have her constantly immersed in her work. On a typical day, she’ll herd her 3-year-old son out of bed and to day care before commuting to a nine-hour day at the office. Often, she’s back at her computer after putting him to sleep.

But since the Covid-19 pandemic, life has slowed down. Rudnick no longer rouses her toddler in the morning and rushes to the office in a harried frenzy. She is still working, but productivity in front of a computer is making way for more sentimental moments with her son. She doesn’t want it to change. She says, “I’ve been working so hard for so many hours and lamenting the fact that I’m away from my kid so much. (But in isolation), I’ve had so many incredibly sweet moments with him.”

Across the country, Maggie Connolly has come to a similar conclusion. Her career consumed most aspects of her life. She said, “[B]eing overbooked and busy was really glorified. I didn’t realize until now how unhealthy that was. We really link success with being exhausted with work.”

Now that work is no longer the defining force of her life, she’s asking bigger, existential questions: What are my hobbies? What makes me happy? What are my interests outside of my job? “Isolation,” she says, “has been an experience of waking up and realizing that you’ve spent so much of your time working. Is that really what you want to do with your life?”

Andrew Smart, the author of Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing, writes: “What this pandemic shows, though, is that we can stop everything in a moment’s notice. I hope that rather than panic and try to rush back to normalcy, people will reflect on what it is we should leave behind, rather than resume.”

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