Toxic Productivity: How Social Media Glorifies Academic Perfectionism

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Written by Rachael Willis

We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling through YouTube, procrastinating doing your homework while watching some teenager teach you how to take the most aesthetically-pleasing notes with $20 pastel highlighters. All across social media, there are different communities focused on studying and productivity – studyblrs, studygrams, you name it. Hundreds of high school and college students taut their perfectly productive morning routines, iced coffee and all, to their viewers. I’ll admit it, I bought into it for a while. With my colorful gel pens and Zebra Mildliners in hand, I was ready to become a picture-perfect student, except that didn’t happen.

Seeing all of these pictures of beautiful notes all over social media made me feel like I was studying incorrectly. But I wasn’t; I had good grades, and my notes were doing the job just fine. For some reason, I felt pressured by all of these study influencers to become a color-coded productivity machine.

So I decided that I needed to switch up my study habits. I went out to buy some nice markers, a bullet journal, and a concerning amount of pens (seriously, I have two shoeboxes in my closet filled with pens). I essentially became that girl, the one who artfully wrote all of the titles to her notes in cursive. It was fun at the beginning. I loved doodling away with my markers, but I soon realized that I was doing more harm than good.

If anything, this whole ordeal brought more stress into my already stressful life. Taking notes became a long, arduous ordeal, leaving less time for the things that I enjoy. I would scrutinize my notes, sometimes rewriting them over and over again in an attempt to make them look pretty. I realized that this was a complete waste of my time. My original, one-pen method was working just fine before. Why did I feel the need to become some sort of note-taking Picasso?

I was consumed by toxic productivity, the notion that people need to constantly be working towards success in their daily lives. Whenever I wasn’t sitting in front of a computer and making another Quizlet, I felt somewhat guilty. It turned out that being a productivity machine was not as realistic as these influencers made it appear to be.

Over the past year or so, I have worked to overcome my toxic relationship with productivity. My solution to this dilemma was to reframe my definition of productivity. Normally, we consider tasks to be productive if they help us reach some sort of tangible goal, whether it’s as small as making your bed or as large as writing a ten-page essay. I, however, see productivity in a different light. In my eyes, taking a break to meditate is just as productive as finishing an assignment. Sure, one may seem more important than the other, but that is just because the assignment is tangible. Taking care of your mental health and wellbeing is productive; we just aren’t used to viewing it as such. Reframing my definition of productivity has helped me break up with toxic productivity and study influencers.