Productivity Guilt: 6 Mindset Strategies to Help You Avoid This Common Burnout Symptom

by Edgar R. Olivo

Do you ever feel guilty when you are not productive? That feeling is called “productivity guilt” and it is a mindset of feeling bad when you are not creating, achieving, producing or working hard. You might have intrusive thoughts about how you wasted your time, you are not good enough or feel like a failure because you did not do enough work.

It is more common than you think, and many executives have experienced it. Even if you are consistently accomplishing your goals and finishing tasks, productivity guilt is that inner voice asking you, “What’s next?” Productivity guilt can be harmful because it can happen when it is time to take a break from work, especially after you hit a home run on a personal or professional project.

The pandemic in the U.S. has vastly improved, but employee burnout is a big mental health problem that employers will have to face at some point. Forty-five percent of U.S. employees say they are feeling burnout, with one in four indicating that the cause is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new national poll. Productivity guilt is a result of overwork and employee burnout.

Focusing on incessant productivity during a time of lockdown is misguided and irresponsible. Workers are not just “working from home.” They are also managing the severe stress of a global pandemic; caring for children home from school; keeping track of elderly relatives; valiantly trying to keep up with social connections through online videos, chats and games while adjusting to living whole lives from home.

Guilt can be helpful to help identify what contradicts your personal values to move you into action. But productivity guilt is different. It can disarm you and keeps you in the present by focusing on what you are not doing and compare yourself to others. This ultimately makes you feel less about yourself, leading you toward shame. And shame can quickly turn into “what’s the point?” which ends up being the opposite of productive.

Here are six mindset strategies to help you rise out of your productivity guilt when it happens:

  1. Know the difference between being busy and productive. Being busy is the act of filling your time with tasks that do not lead you toward a goal. Being productive is doing the actual work that leads you closer to your goals. For example, cleaning your closet every day is very different from creating a process to keep it clean and organized.
  2. Do not try to force yourself into being productive. Face it, occasionally you may not be inspired to do your best work and that is okay. We go through many different mood changes throughout the day and sometimes it takes a little more time to feel ready to jump back into your routine. Listen to your thoughts, watch your environment and pay attention to your vibe when you do your best work. See if there is a pattern you should avoid or repeat.
  3. Take time to celebrate your wins. You need to keep better track of your successes. Why is this important? What can be measured, can be improved. If you are not keeping track of what you are actually getting done, then you will set yourself up for productivity guilt. Keep track, celebrate privately or publicly, and get ready for the next assignment or project.
  4. Empower yourself with better thoughts. Try to avoid using “should statements” because they are often unrealistic and unfair expectations you place on yourself. For example, statements like, “I should be using this quarantine to read ALL the books or complete home projects” can leave you feeling short. Instead, say to yourself, “I will read one book this month or complete this specific home project first” to empower your thoughts towards action. Do you see the difference?
  5. You are your own best friend. There is no person more deserving of your love, respect, and patience than yourself. Start treating yourself with kindness and be aware of how you talk to yourself. Chances are when you feel productivity guilt you would never talk to a close friend the way you do in your thoughts at that moment. So why would you treat yourself that way? Be kinder to yourself.
  6. Take your breaks. As a productive person, one of the healthiest things you can do to be more productive is taking a well-deserved break. Work will always be there waiting for you, but not your time. Remember, taking a break is also a form of productivity for your mental health.

Now, if this is you, remind yourself these mindset strategies when you are not sure if you are being busy or being productive. You are allowed take a break and it is not being lazy. And by all means, avoid comparing yourself to others. You are on your own unique journey filled with your own adventures and you deserve to enjoy it all.

EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.

Para la versión en español de este artículo, haga clic aquí.

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