The Guilt of Being Unproductive

Have you ever felt bad about not creating, achieving, or working hard? We often feel productivity guilt because we’ve been pumped with information about filling our day with productive things and to “never waste a second of our precious time”.

If you find yourself feeling guilty for being “unproductive,” reconsider what that even means. Ask yourself why you need to feel guilty about doing what you are doing.

The Causes of Productivity Guilt

1. External factors

Societal pressure from videos, podcasts, posts talking about productivity and how to maximise your time. Social media is a good example of how you can easily compare yourself with others.

2. Internalised obligation

Since we were young, we would be praised when we have finished tasks and punished when we haven’t finished them. This leads to the association of self-worth to our productivity. This deeply ingrained and largely unconscious internalisation is the most powerful root cause. That thought of what we “should” be. 

How to Overcome The Guilt

1. Don’t compare yourself with others

“People are ‘getting things done’ while I’m watching a film and taking a break”

When a thought like this pops up, don’t overthink it. Try to turn it into a positive thought.

“I’m taking a break because I know I need rest from an hour-long attempt of finishing a task”

2. Differentiate between being “busy” and being “productive”

Being busy means you have a lot of things to do — things that are not necessarily important or urgent at the moment. Being productive means you’re tackling important and urgent tasks based on how much of a priority they are.

3. Set out priorities

Try to list all the tasks that you need to do. Mark your top-priorities and separate nice-to-haves from the essentials. Tackle the most important tasks first. Remind yourself that you can’t have it all. Not getting it all done doesn’t mean that you’re lazy!

4. Acknowledge that creativity can’t be forced

We are often most productive when we feel it least, when we’re taking a break or doing absolutely nothing. Peter Bregman, an author, said, “They are the moments in which we, often unconsciously, organize our minds, make sense of our lives, and connect the dots. They’re the moments in which we talk to ourselves. And listen.”

5. Recognise process over endpoint

Strive for progress, not perfection. Value not just the achievement of a task or goal, but also the process of how you got there. Reframe your life as a process of growth, not of being done. You can celebrate your growth instead of feeling guilty for things left undone or incomplete.

6. Accept rest as an essential part of life

Remind yourself that “wasting time” also is productive. Know when to stop and take a break before even experiencing symptoms of burn out. Instead of thinking about rest as time wasted, re-frame it as a necessity to recharge your energy.

Constantly pushing yourself to work hard will make you feel tired and burnt out, which will eventually hurt your efficiency and productivity in the long run. Productivity requires respite.

According to Elizabeth Sullivan, a licensed therapist from San Fransisco,  “We must alternate between times of action and times of reflection and rest”. Pay attention to your mind, body, and spirit. Practise being mindful.

“Slow down, you crazy child. You can afford to lose a day or two.” – Billy Joel

Life is made of moments, not to-do lists. In order to live a meaningful and happy life, we need balance. Remember that you are a human being with human limitations, also, it’s okay if productivity looks different in this season. Small progress is still progress, and you are not weak for needing rest. Please, take care of yourself.

Published on Self-Love Warrior – The Causes, How to Overcome.

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