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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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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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