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Panic over pandemic productivity

The pressure to share achievements on social media can lead to either the façade becoming second nature or suffocating.

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By Sara Mahmood

About a month ago, one of my friends was posting pictures of all her certificates and trophies on WhatsApp. I asked her, “when did companies start recruiting via WhatsApp?”. She laughed and said she was feeling low, that’s why she was doing it.

The incident confirmed something I was already conscious of — sharing our achievements on social media makes us feel important. Having been unable to achieve something concrete in a long time, it made me even more conscious of the fact that I was lagging behind. In a culture where people judge you exclusively on “merits”, you are made to feel inadequate. I thought, “what can I turn to if I feel low, unlike her, I have few achievements, and those too are of negligible worth…”

Amid the pandemic, there is a pressure to use time wisely, as everyone is aiming to come out of it as an upskilled version of themselves. “So what did you do during your time at home,” people will likely ask when the pandemic is over. The worry is that the answer will measure self-worth via productivity.

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Stephanie Heck, a Philadelphia-based psychologist, says “There’s this feeling of boundary-lessness like people don’t know what day it is, you don’t have the same kind of structure of a workweek so that you go to work, you’re productive, you go home, and then your family time starts. So like now it’s sort of like this big amorphous, timeless space where people could just be working 24/7.”

Career counselling websites have started online courses, many have even made them available for free, with open arms. One can’t finish watching a YouTube video without an ad of a transformative programme, trying to convince those with low self esteem to at least take the free trial. Websites which would otherwise need a subscription have unlocked their hoard of knowledge. In an act of charity, prestigious universities have shared their precious academic journals with others. Work-from-home options are buzzing, so you could earn from the comfort of your home. Revised health insurance policies are knocking at your door, for your own well-being. Social media challenges and competitions are there to boost your confidence. So much study material can be procured for your upcoming standardised exam that even if you dedicate all the hours in a day till the test date to go through them, you would still miss a huge chunk!

On our social media feed, friends can be seen sharing their accomplishments, whether big or small. People hold on dearly to not just their achievements but also the validation and respect they bring. The fear of being seen as good-for-nothing could serve as a catalyst to keep going.


So, is this fear healthy as it pushes one to upkeep? Not quite. Social media leads us to compare ourselves to others, even though everyone shows themselves in the best possible light. By making us strive for peer recognition, it leads to comparative envy, anxiety, and FOMO.

It’s a constant struggle to break free from the “hustle culture” because everyone around is playing by its rules. A persona of professionality, or a seemingly productive life, is met with acceptance. By wearing a mask to avoid consequences of honesty, two things can happen — either the façade could become a second nature or it could get suffocating. On the other hand, if you choose an authentic life, you might have to embrace some rejection. Becoming “irrelevant” is the price one has to pay in order to get out of the rat race.

The writer studied English at Aligarh Muslim University

First published on: 19-11-2020 at 06:39:54 pm
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