The Productivity Games: The New Summer Olympics

By Rida Arif

The words ‘summer’ and ‘productivity’ should be oxymoronic, or at least they used to be when I didn’t know what the word ‘productive’ meant.

If you close your eyes and think of summer, do you imagine a fluorescently lit office, Excel sheets, and the burning blue light from a work computer? Seemingly, that’s what our student body dreams of — a glowing resume is the ultimate oasis. At the end of my sophomore year, my aspirations for the next few blazing months were very simple: watch movies, go ‘up North’, and read. What I did not anticipate was the guilt that followed.

I felt the achievements of my peers creeping up on me like goosebumps in the cold: sneaky and uncomfortable. Every refresh of my Twitter timeline birthed more tweets about new internships, interesting coworkers, and artists selling commissions. My email advertised society department positions with elaborate application forms. Facebook posts offered 1.2 Rupees per word if I were to write 2000 words a day. There was no escaping the productivity brigade. We were all inadvertently competing with each other; who can do two internships at once, who earns the most money, who can bulk up their LinkedIn the most before the summer is over. It was practically unavoidable.

After overestimating how much work she would have the motivation to do in the summer, Manaal Ahmed ‘22 dreaded going on social media after seeing people constantly post about their work: “I would think, ‘look at all these things people are doing, I am so behind’… It is this feeling of ‘being behind’ that made me overcommit and caused the worst burnout.”

One would think that the idea of doing something productive with your summer would be standard for rising juniors and seniors, but even freshmen are plagued with this conundrum due to social media. Aaila Mujeeb ‘24 told The Post: “You normally wouldn’t know what everyone is doing, but because of posts and stories, you see what people are working on all the time and feel like you need to be doing something too.”

Clearly, it is a double-edged sword: if you planned to relax, you are wasting your summer, and if you planned to work, you aren’t doing enough. Aalia believes the LUMS community reinforces this belief. “I think LDF has also played a part in all this pressure. You’ll see more posts about internships and freelancing rather than seniors giving advice saying that it’s okay to relax,” she said.

After two months of being implicitly convinced that I should be working against my will and my own guilt-tripping, I wondered whether our generation even understood the importance of recharging. I came to the realization that we equate relaxing and rejuvenating with doing nothing, and that is why we make ourselves feel bad. We simply attach no value to relaxing.

Kinza Ghanchi ‘23, a fellow no-summer-work advocate, echoed my sentiments, “I feel like rest isn’t even a concept anymore, and to live we need to be productive. Rest is considered a reward, not a right.” This idea of consistently having to earn the luxury to rest without the attached guilt is practically foreign to our age group to the point where we have even begun to assign productivity markers to our hobbies and interests.

Manaal discusses this argument in terms of a blurring between the boundaries of work and leisure: “We want our time to be quantifiable. If I cannot break down what I did in a day into numbers, then I did nothing… This also applies to leisure activities. If I enjoy painting, I should be able to quantify the value of the painting through money or likes on social media [for it to be productive].”

This leads to a question I have been asking myself all summer: what is productivity, and why must it be defined only with capitalistic goals in mind? Should not reading, painting, writing, and creating—even for leisure—be considered productive? Upon asking what productivity means to her, Kinza answered simply: “Making good use of your time,” where you create the parameters rather than letting others define them for you.

My argument here is not that working during the summer is inherently wrong—if the prospect of working excites you or is necessary to sustain your way of living, that is respectable. However, if you feel propelled to overwork yourself due to the intangible but immensely powerful combination of not valuing relaxation, trigger-happy internship posters, and a skewed definition of productivity — I am right there with you.

Likewise, the most productive solution presents itself as a healthy mixture of learning to view relaxing as a human right, muting certain people on social media, and learning not to boil your day down to numbers. May we all enter campus fully refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to compete for those sweet, sweet CP points once again.

1 Comment

  • Nida

    So true – we are a month into the semester now and although we had a long summer my burn out never ended. I constantly felt the need to search for new internships and my inability to get any made me feel incompetent and lazy. When I finally landed an unpaid internship, I sighed with relief knowing I had one more thing to add on my resume, even though it worsened my mental state at the time.

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