Slow and Steady: Resisting Toxic Productivity and Productivity Porn

close up of a clock face with the numbers 10 and 11 and two clock hands visible
Why do we write like we’re running out of time?

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when many professionals and academics are working from home, I want to address the phenomenon of toxic productivity and productivity porn. Toxic productivity is the culture of endless labor that pervades workplaces and academia. Productivity porn is the social media spectacle we create to prove our fitness in a system that demands we never stop working and more importantly, never stop producing; when you brag about the number of hours you’ve worked, the words you’ve written, or your publication stats, that’s productivity porn. Toxic productivity is embedded in academic attitudes and policies, especially time-to-degree and tenure clock policies that continue to decrease while expectations- of journal articles, conference presentations, monographs, and other producible labor- increase.

Like most academic policies, the students and scholars most impacted are the most marginalized: people of color, poor students and contingent faculty, people with caregiving responsibilities, and disabled/chronically ill people. Disabled/chronically ill scholars are particularly vulnerable to “failing” toxic productivity requirements due to increased time spent in waiting rooms and doctor’s offices, working with personal care attendants and therapists, resting, recovering, and contending with academic ableism. Crip time, the notion that disability exists around, against, and out of time, reveals the ways time fails disabled bodies and disabled bodies fail time. In her article Six Ways of Looking At Crip Time, Ellen Samuels addresses crip time as non-normative time in the context of work, writing, and rest. Even while writing this post, I experienced lapses in productivity due to pain, brain fog, and anxiety around the impact of COVID-19 on the disability community.

I’ve heard from numerous students, both disabled and nondisabled, that they have felt pressure to increase their productivity during the self-isolation and social distancing in response to COVID-19. Some professors and advisors view this time as free for reading, writing, and research, despite the chaos and uncertainty. The move to work from home has also increased productivity porn among those who want evidence that they can continue to work, even under dire circumstances. I too have been guilty of (over)sharing about work and labor to maintain a sense of normalcy and to celebrate work victories. Yet productivity porn rarely makes anyone feel better; rather, it perpetuates the cycle of endless labor that leaves so many critical scholars- and their knowledge- behind.

the book "The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy" by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber

Rather than continue to produce, academics and other professionals can use this time to experiment with the slow professor movement, theorized by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. Slow professoring is meant to resist toxic productivity and the demands of the institution, especially on women of color and other marginalized faculty who are asked to perform emotional labor as mentors and role models in addition to intellectual labor. Slow professoring is a strategy to reclaim one’s work and time and avoid burnout. In Towards A Crip-Of-Color Critique, Jina B. Kim explains that slow professoring is “a refusal to equate productivity and work with one’s life’s worth.” Travis Chi Wing Lau expands Kim’s argument in Disability and the University, arguing that crip slow scholarship is critical to the future of an equitable academe. Crip slow scholarship is a disability justice imperative.

How can you practice crip/slow scholarship in your own work? How can you take time to breathe, to rest, to care and make your working hours more effective and deliberate? I’m trying to listen to my bodymind while I’m working and stop when I feel myself getting overwhelmed. I’m turning off my computer in the evenings and trying (and failing) to stop checking email constantly. I encourage you to try to slow your work pace and work more consciously, with regard for your well-being and care for others during this difficult time.

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