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Productivity Guilt

Updated: Apr 26

By: Alana Tristan, MS, LPC-A, Supervised by Roxanne Deams, LPC-S.

When it comes to achieving goals or working hard on daily tasks, sometimes thoughts creep up telling us that we are not good enough if we were unable to get much done.

diverse group of young female and males in a boardroom meeting

It seems as if our “list of to do” is never ending, or that no matter how hard you try, you just cannot succeed. The guilt of always doing something puts you in a constant battle against time; often leading to feeling drained, exhausted, or even anxious.

Similar to perfectionism, productivity guilt drives us to high achievement that is linked to self-worth. While being effective in our work can be beneficial, it is important to be mindful of how our pursuit in productivity can have a negative impact. During my tenure in Grad School, I struggled with creating time for myself. I felt like I was playing a never-ending game of ‘catch up’, trying to balance my personal responsibilities with my academic duties. There was always something that needed to be done! I felt guilty the few times I practiced self-care, like spending time with friends or simply resting, thinking about the next item on my to-do list.

As I continued to grow and reflect, I realize that although there will always be something that needs to be done, I no longer carry the guilt for doing things that improve my overall health, allow me to rest and recharge, plan better, and bring me joy. If you ever find yourself in the loop of productivity guilt, I encourage you to utilize strategies that will help make your productive route easier to manage.

Some strategies to consider include:

  1. Set realistic expectations or goals for day. Organize what needs to be done by breaking down your time and rating them into priorities. Focus on the tasks that are of the most importance and have an open mind about the ones that can be moved to the next day. Think about what is achievable for you.

  2. Identify the difference between ‘busy’ and ‘productive’. Being busy leads to burnout or lack of focus, especially if you are not properly implementing breaks within your tasks. On the other hand, being productive allows us to work efficiently within the time to produce a better outcome.

  3. Recognize progress, not perfection. Remind yourself that everyone progresses differently when you feel guilty for not being where you want to be. It takes time and consistency to develop a skill or accomplish a goal. Focus on smaller action steps that get you closer to your end goal and acknowledge what went well instead of what went wrong. Celebrate every achievement and win along the way!

  4. Remember that breaks do not equal laziness. Allow yourself to pause and recharge so you do not lose focus throughout the day. Take a 10-minute break after an hour of work that relaxes your body such as stretching, going outside, or eating a snack.

Rather than burning yourself out trying to juggle too much, the solution to kicking productivity to the curb is finding purpose in the tasks you are working on. Be kinder to yourself. You got this! I am rooting for you!

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