Reading Length: 7 minutes
What is Productivity Guilt?
This is the nagging feeling that you aren’t doing enough. Even when you take breaks, you feel guilty about not being “productive.” This type of mindset comes from an effect known as “The Zeigarnik Effect.”
I fall victim to productivity guilt all the time. Even just this morning, my mind immediately jumped to writing this blog post and editing my next YouTube video. As I was doing yoga, my mind kept shouting “Get things done! Work now!” I ignored that inner voice but the guilt still lingered in me. I thought I shouldn’t be relaxing in the morning. I should be working. I should be productive. But the irony is that I’m writing a blog post on “Productivity Guilt.” Yet, I was just feeling this a few minutes ago. So I’m on the same boat as everyone, trying to follow exactly the tips in this post.
How to Stop Productivity Shame:
1. Accept and embrace imperfection.
It’s okay to not be perfect and not be your ideal self. Advice is usually a direction, not a destination. From Scott H. Young, author, programmer and entrepreneur:
Being a perfectionist, this can be extremely hard for me to follow. I can be harsh on myself when reviewing the final works of my blog posts and YouTube videos. In fact, I think I’ve only been satisfied with the final product 20% of the time. Most of the time, I mentally judge myself for not doing “enough.” There’s always something that I’m dissatisfied with whether it be the camera angles, the editing, or the writing. But Scott H. Young’s quote resonated with me because I realized that if everything was perfect, then that would defeat the whole purpose of self improvement. The beauty in self improvement is that we can always keep making progress no matter how small it is and it is endless. So instead of judging my final work now, I ask myself: what is the 1% improvement I made this time?
2. Manage productivity strategically.
Productivity doesn’t always have to be seen as something cold or stressful. With time, attention and energy management, we can stop hating the process and stop feeling guilty for not getting enough done. According to Chris Bailey, author of “Hyperfocus,” he suggests:
- 1) Rule of three.
By the time the day is done, ask yourself: what 3 main things have I accomplished?
- 2) Do one thing at a time.
The fewer things we do, the more productive we are.
- 3) Cultivate your energy throughout the day.
Make sure you’re eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise.
- 4) Disconnect from the internet.
We need to find time to be present without the internet. We spend 47% of our time procrastinating on the internet.
- 5) Daydream.
We need time to daydream in order to get more ideas. Maybe ideas come to you during showers or during a walk.
3. Disconnect your self worth from “productivity.”
Stop associating your self-worth with “productivity.” This is when your self-esteem and your productivity rise and fall together. The more you get done, the better you feel about yourself. However, it is practically impossible to be productive all the time. You’ll face setbacks and interruptions. From Stephen Altrogge, blogger on Rescue Time:
4. Counter the guilt during your breaks.
Think of all the potential benefits that can arise from your breaks. Remind yourself that breaks are a necessity, not a luxury. According to Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus, he advises to counter the feelings of guilt by reflecting on things such as:
- How much you value resting your mind so you can do better, more creative work later.
- How your focus will benefit from this attention break.
- How many great ideas come while your mind is wandering (when you’re not working or focused).
- How often your mind considers and plans for the future while you’re stepping back.
I find that the best ideas really do come to me when I am not working. I personally love to do brainstorm walks where I prepare a few questions to answer beforehand. Afterwards, I go outside to walk and just come up with as many answers as I can to answer those questions. I also reserve a spot in my home just meant for brainstorming and creative work.
5. Stop comparing yourself to others.
Social media is the culprit of us constantly comparing ourselves to others. We see perfect images of other people on Instagram and wish our lives were like that. But we don’t see behind the scenes where that person took hundreds of photos before finally getting the right one.
The same goes for successful people. We only see the success stories and don’t see the thousands of hours of hard work committed to achieving that successful outcome. We need to recognize that everyone’s journey is different. From Sheina Schochet, LMHC, a licensed therapist, relationship coach and professor:
6. Reflect on your current habits.
From Carlos Castaneda, blogger on Simplify Your Why, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can your current habits carry you to your desired future?
- What is one thing you can remove from your life that would improve it?
My days used to be a routine of studying, assignments and binge watching Netflix. With this routine, I only got less than 6 hours of sleep everyday, never exercised, ate junk food as replacement of dinner, and hardly made time with friends and family. It wasn’t until I felt burnt out when I realized this lifestyle was not sustainable for the future. Now I prioritize sleep, exercise, friends, family and healthy eating. These things are more meaningful and valuable to me than being productive. It actually even promotes more productivity. Click here to read my post on good habit ideas.
7. Get more clarity on your day.
From Mary Grace Garis, a Well+Good’s lifestyle writer, she recommends:
- 1. Outline your expectations for the day.
Don’t rely on vague to-do lists. What are your bare minimum requirements for getting through the day?
- 2. Keep track of what you achieve within a given day.
Focus on what you have achieved rather than what you did not.
- 3. Get clear on when things must be done.
Be clear on a firm deadline.
- 4. Look out for the repercussions.
Recognize that losing one day of productivity doesn’t really have huge consequences most of the time.
I find that journaling on the day helps me tremendously. I usually recap my entire day by focusing on what I had accomplished in the day. This allows me to focus on my progress, promoting feelings of accomplishment and reduces feelings of guilt.
- What is Productivity Guilt? It is the nagging feeling that you’re not doing “enough.” This comes from “The Zeigarnik Effect.”
- 1. Accept and embrace imperfection. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s not even desirable and practical. Focus on the 1% improvement you made.
- 2. Manage productivity strategically. Ask yourself the 3 main things you have accomplished. Do one thing at a time. Cultivate your energy throughout the day. Disconnect from the internet. Daydream.
- 3. Disconnect your self-worth from “productivity.” This is when your self esteem and “productivity” are linked together. But it is impossible to be productive all the time so dissociate your self esteem from that.
- 4. Counter the guilt during your breaks. Think of all the potential benefits that can arise from your breaks. Refer back to see examples.
- 5. Stop comparing yourself to others. Social media causes us to compare ourselves from others who seem to have perfect lives. But we don’t see what goes on behind the scenes. We also need to recognize everyone’s journey is different.
- 6. Reflect on your current habits. Can your current habits carry you to your desired future? What is one thing you can remove from your life that would improve it?
- 7. Get more clarity on your day. Outline your expectations for the day. Keep track of what you achieve within a given day. Get clear on when things must be done. Look out for the repercussions.
Just as I mentioned before, I’m still struggling to overcome “Productivity Guilt.” But I hope to continue implementing these tips to slowly eliminate that annoying feeling. So the next time I hear my workaholic mind telling me to work during my breaks, it’ll probably be easier to quiet it. I’ve concluded that I’m beyond just my productivity. I will not trade in my sanity, my happiness and my health for productivity.
What is Productivity Guilt? (And How Can You Prevent It?) by Scott H. Young
A More Human Approach to Productivity | Chris Bailey | TEDxLiverpool
Productivity shame: Why you never feel like you’ve done “enough” (and what to do about it) by Stephen Altrogge
Why not working makes us feel guilty by Chris Bailey
It’s Time to Stop Feeling Guilty About Not Getting Everything Done by Sarah Yang
DO YOU HAVE PRODUCTIVITY SHAME? by Carlos Castaneda
How to overcome productivity guilt by Kate Neilson
Productivity Guilt’ Is Very Real Right Now—Here’s How To Avoid It by Mary Grace Garis