The irony of it all: productivity guilt can be so debilitating that it makes you unproductive. Which then triggers a new load of productivity guilt all over again! It’s definitely a vicious cycle that we feel we can’t get out of.
What is productivity guilt anyway?
Productivity guilt is the constant desire to do more, without the necessary action of following up with those desires. It’s also accompanied by the constant feeling that you aren’t doing enough, and feeling low and bad about yourself for not being able to fulfill your own expectations.
It’s a terrible feeling to experience because you can feel like a total failure, every day. We constantly want to accomplish more but never seem to come close to it: and then we shame ourselves for indulging in useless activities instead.
If you’re noticing this feeling of productivity guilt taking the forefront of your mind almost every day, you’ve probably gotten stuck in a rut. There’s no need to panic since there are a few ways to start on the journey of being productive.
I realized that I was in a productivity guilt rut recently. I woke up every morning with a sinking feeling of being angry at myself: it was 8 AM and not 6 AM like I wanted to wake up at. I struggled with waking up on time and never got time to get in a workout or meditation before I started work for the day.
Even on days where I accomplished a lot of work, I felt lousy about not eating healthy, or not taking time to read a book. On weekends where I took out time to exercise and eat healthily: I felt I had relaxed too much instead of doing productive work.
It felt like I could never win! Even when my loved ones around me congratulated me on doing something well: I felt I didn’t deserve it because there was so much more I could’ve been doing.
If this story sounds familiar, like it could be your own: you have to swallow the hard pill that you can’t live like this! Productivity guilt can make every day living in a lose-lose situation. It doesn’t have to be so tough, all the time!
The good news
There is some good news to productivity guilt: at least you’re not being complacent!
Ambition is a double-edged sword. It’s only because of your admirable ambition that you’re so driven to accomplish multiple goals in the first place! Take a moment to appreciate the individual that you are: constantly aspiring for self-improvement.
There are so many people who are comfortable doing the bare minimum and settle for mediocrity their whole lives. That will never be you: and even though you may not be the happiest person right now, you’re on a journey instead of being stagnant. Try to appreciate yourself for that!
Life is more about the journey than the destination. It’s more meaningful to celebrate being ambitious than to look at your achievements.
We have to find a way to balance ambition so that we’re in an optimum range of wanting to do more, without it going overboard and causing productivity guilt in our lives.
How to strike the balance
One of the main reasons why we feel like we’ve not done enough is because we don’t stop to acknowledge the accomplishments we have.
As soon as we complete a task, we don’t think it’s worthy enough of a celebration, and quickly move on to thinking about “what’s next?”. As a result, our brain barely even registers that we accomplished the task at all! When you don’t take time out to celebrate, your mind forgets that the event even happened.
Celebrating doesn’t mean that you have to throw yourself a party every time you do something right. Take five minutes to just soak in the moment — strike off the task from your to-do list and get up from your desk and walk around the room! Do something different so that your brain can’t help but recognize that you’ve accomplished a task.
Being more introspective will make sure you’re always one step ahead of your mind: try to write a list of things that went well at the end of the day. Forcing yourself to remember the good things will give you tangible proof of your progress. You may not have done 4 things that you wanted to, but you just wrote a list in your notebook of 3 things that you did!
This stops the thought “I didn’t do anything!” and now you know that you did indeed accomplish something in the day.
These days we’re constantly exposing ourselves to content that reminds us of productivity. When you look around, all you see is people being great at things that you would like to do yourself. Social media is a huge culprit: we constantly watch people on social media seemingly living great lives, without knowing the struggle that they invariably go through as well.
Going cold turkey from social media is not an option either: you’d feel completely disconnected. The key is to be able to consume a little bit where you can find out what your friends are up to without feeling crushed by comparing yourself to them.
Reading a lot of self-help books or constantly consuming self-help content can sometimes have an adverse effect on you as well. People are constantly telling you what you should be doing in order to achieve a greater quality of life. The danger of so much advice is that we feel like we should follow all of it.
It’s not feasible to be doing all the good things that self-help gurus recommend! Pick the habits and goals that you want to adopt carefully: knowing yourself and your lifestyle.
Trim your to-do list
We can get over-ambitious with our to-do lists as well. We constantly think about all the good habits that we want to incorporate into our lives and the different projects that we want to work on, without thinking about what we’ll have to sacrifice in the meantime.
Being over ambitious is setting yourself up for failure, because there’s no way you’ll fulfill your own expectations.
It’s also great to start small and break up your goals. If you’re planning to change your daily routine drastically in one day and accomplish more than you generally do in a week: it’s just not possible. It’s almost diabolically difficult to break old habits and form new ones. Trying to get yourself to be productive should be looked as a long term goal rather than a short term one.
When you set the bar lower, you give yourself a chance to actually complete all the tasks! If you go through everyday without ever finishing all the items on the to-do list, you should limit the things you assign to yourself for a day.
With smaller to-do lists, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished more and have more of a reason to celebrate yourself. Be realistic with what you can accomplish. If you want to start exercising, meditating, completing your projects in half-time and learning a new hobby: you might want to start with one of them at a time.
Learning to manage productivity guilt is less about trying to stop the feeling of guilt, and more about learning to remember your accomplishments. If we re-adjust our goals, give ourselves the chance to ‘be more productive’ by our own standards.
Make sure that your personal goals for productivity are your own, and not influenced by anyone else in your life! By being your authentic self, you’ll be able to really get out of the rut and focus on self-betterment.