“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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