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How to Avoid Productivity Guilt (And become more productive in the process)

How to Avoid Productivity Guilt (And become more productive in the process)

“Self Development” sites (mine included) are constantly bombarding the internet with productivity advice. “Productivity” is a cultural trait that is now securely ingrained in our minds, mainly because we all have so much “stuff” to do in our everyday lives.

Within the self development “space”, there are a lot of people who are genuinely interested in accomplishing more in their everyday life. Whether this be coursework, business, blogging, or creating; people want to do more – and by god don’t we hear all about it. Productivity has become the buzzword to kill all buzzwords. There’s a new “hack” every day, a new way to work every week, and a new guru emerging on the subject from every corner of the internet.

Whilst the pursuit of productivity is often healthy and beneficial, something I’ve been experiencing recently has made me seriously re-evaluate the content I’m consuming and creating, and that is: productivity guilt.

Productivity Guilt

Productivity guilt is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a mindset of feeling bad about not creating, achieving, or working hard and it has (probably) been around since forever.

In the early 1900’s, Bluma Zeigarnik termed the Zeigarnik effect. This is the tendency to have “intrusive thoughts” about a task that we once started but didn’t finish. In other words, it is in our human nature to finish off things that we start and we often hate having to leave a project unfinished. In some ways, this explains productivity guilt, suggesting that it could be hardwired in to our psyche.

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Recently, I’ve been having some guilt of my own. I’ve found myself coming home after a 10 hour shift, going to the gym afterwards, but then feeling bad because I don’t feel like opening up the laptop and writing that post or replying to those emails. A big voice inside is telling me to “chill the f*ck out”, but a little voice is telling me to “be productive”, “get sh*t done”. That little voice is guilt.

We often feel guilty because we’ve been pumped with information about filling our day with productive things and “never wasting a second of our precious time”. Whilst there’s definitely merit in living a productive life (I write about it a lot myself), there’s a fine line between beating yourself up about it and realizing when to stop and just… chill.

Naturally, this is very subjective. Some people are very good at maintaining a detachment between their work and their outside life. For others (especially those indoctrinated in ‘life hacks’ and productivity tips), the guilt to be constantly doing something can be a real energy sucker.

Here’s how to beat productivity guilt in your everyday life:

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

You’ve heard this one before. I hate clichés as much as you do, but hear me out.

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Just because Casey Neistat gets up at 5am and runs 10 miles before growing his start-up and editing his vlog until 1am doesn’t mean that you have to do the same.

There are massive costs to living a “productive” lifestyle. Before comparing yourself to that guy over there, realize what he’s sacrificing. If you’re okay with that, then carry on.

Don’t get me twisted on this one, this is not about living the path of least resistance. You should be actively seeking challenges and pushing yourself in some facet of your life. If you’re not, you’re going to live a very mundane, average life. However, if you’re feeling guilty about your lack of “productivity”, then you’re not going to be truly productive at all. This links to my next point:

Realize the Difference Between Being “Busy” and Being “Productive”

Lots of people are busy. Busy-ness (or business) is a state of doing what you are told to do, having tasks piled on top of you and running around frantically trying to balance them all. Often, when people say “I was so productive today”, they really mean “I had time to do all the things my life required of me today”.

I’ve worked in kitchens, so I understand the state of busy-ness extremely well. Having someone ask you to do 3 things. Then, whilst you’re doing one of those things, someone else asks you to do 2 things, then you get shouted at for not doing the first thing quick enough. It’s a never-ending cycle.

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Productivity; however, is a state of doing what we truly need to do to reach our goals. For me, that is writing a blog or doing some email outreach or guest posting. Whilst there may be some busy-ness involved in this process, cutting down the unnecessary and focusing on the essential is going to be a quick way to boost your real productivity

There is plenty of online literature on this subject and how you can make your tasks more efficient rather than doing more tasks (and this may just be a case of eliminating procrastination). That said, my main point here is to not feel guilty because you’ve not accomplished all the tasks you set out for yourself. Realizing the difference between being busy and being productive is the first step in cutting out some of that unnecessary guilt.

You Can’t Force Creativity

If ideas are an important aspect of your life, then you may need to realize that you cannot force creativity.

Creativity is not something we “do”. It is not a process we can follow or a set of steps which lead to a destination. We can “grind” out a workout, we can “force” ourselves to do some paperwork, but we cannot force ourselves or grind out a completely new creative idea for a blog post or essay.

Productivity guilt has often led to me sitting in my chair, aggressively pursuing an idea and wanting to find it, rather than letting it come to me. This is not the right way to do it.

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Relaxing and doing nothing can actually be a vital part of the creative process. Why do you think artists often go on retreats or isolate themselves from the outside world? Without the busy-ness of everyday life, our minds are free to wonder and create new and exciting things. This is also why people find themselves stuck in a rut when they work a busy and demanding office job. They cannot see past their immediate duties and assigned tasks, so they lack the creativity and mental capacity to break out of their routine and dream big ideas.

My articles often come to this conclusion, but it seems that most things in life are all about balance.

Conclusion

You ultimately know when something is important enough to stress you out. You ultimately know when you are being lazy. You ultimately know when you are being productive and when you are just being “busy”.

Step back and evaluate the day-to-day tasks which are the most important to you. If you’re feeling guilty about putting off an unimportant task, then cut that task out or outsource it to someone else. If you’re feeling guilty about putting off a really important task, then maybe you should do that task right now.

Most importantly, don’t let your most important tasks become a chore. My writing has suffered recently because it has been an afterthought rather than a primary importance. From now on I won’t be feeling guilty about not writing because I’ll be putting it first.

Featured photo credit: VFS Digital Design via imcreator.com

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How to Avoid Productivity Guilt (And become more productive in the process)

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Last Updated on June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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