Do you ever feel like you’re just not doing enough, despite all indications pointing at your output and performance being exactly what’s expected of you? Maybe you feel like if you can’t exceed expectations, you’ll never succeed in your career and your colleagues will think of you as a lazy failure? You may be constantly looking for the next task or milestone, even though you should be relishing in your recent victories and accomplishments. After all, you don’t want to be stuck doing nothing – that certainly wouldn’t make you look good in the eyes of your employer.
That feeling is called productivity guilt, and it’s much more common than you might think. In essence, it’s a strong feeling of guilt that you just aren’t performing up to your expectations, causing you to add more and more to your workload so you can meet these nonexistent (and frankly unrealistic) expectations of hyper productivity, and avoid seemingly doing “nothing.”
In order to succeed in the modern workplace, we have to accept that we’re only human and know when “enough” is enough – not only is it crucial to our long term career success, but a healthy work-life balance can never exist with productivity guilt constantly occupying our thoughts.
How did productivity guilt become so common?
While feelings of never quite doing enough have existed in the workplace for decades, productivity guilt is a relatively new phenomenon. Productivity guilt is a natural consequence of the modern workplace, filled with a constant barrage of notifications, meetings, collaboration, and context switching – these things make it all too easy to forget about work when we’re not supposed to be working.
A constant stream of work and work-related distractions makes it feel like, at the rate you’re working, which is usually meeting all barometers for success, you’ll never catch up – you’ll be a failure. When there’s always another email to read and reply to, another meeting to schedule or attend, another client to touch base with, or a project to brainstorm with colleagues about, it’s natural that you start to feel like you’re just not doing enough.
This feeling causes you to take on far more than you can chew, meaning you’re always working or thinking about working – even during your time off. Even in the midst of this constant state of work, the productivity guilt eating away at you refuses to let you acknowledge that you’re far exceeding expectations or even just doing a good job in general, causing you to take on more and more until you inevitably crumble.
Productivity guilt can only lead to decreased productivity
Taking on more work in the search for a feeling of having been productive or accomplished might lead to a temporary boost in your productivity, but it’ll only result in decreased productivity in the long-term. The thing about productivity guilt is that you’re never going to feel like you’re doing enough – even if you dedicate every waking hour to knocking items off your to-do list, there’s always going to be something else you could’ve tackled or put more time and effort into. This simply isn’t feasible for the long-term, especially when the thought of work occupies your thoughts during non-working hours.
Eventually, productivity guilt can lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety caused by your reluctance or unwillingness to take time for yourself. Sure, there’s always going to be something else that needs to be done, but that’s not your problem. Your time off is meant to be genuine time off to spend with your loved ones, take part in your favorite hobbies, or just relax and be lazy.
Wanting to be a better, more effective employee is great, but not at the expense of your mental health or personal life. You won’t get any special commendation for working non-stop or while on vacation, nor will you possess a superhuman ability to avoid the stress, anxiety, and burnout associated with never having a moment to stop and smell the roses.
The self-induced pressure will eventually become unbearable, and the line between your personal and professional life will become so blurred that you might forget how nice it is to just relax and enjoy your life. These things will absolutely catch up with you, and they will lead to decreased productivity, which will then intensify your existing productivity guilt.
Be present at all times
The first thing you need to do to overcome productivity guilt is to be fully present in whatever you’re doing. Flexibility in the workplace is an amazing thing, but only works if you’re constantly present in whatever it is you’re doing and making a concerted effort to keep it this way. Whenever you’re working, focus entirely on what you’re doing, not what you could be doing or what might come next.
When you’re not working, don’t let thoughts about work overwhelm you or take up your time. Disconnect from the workplace and allow yourself to finally relax and get away from the stress and anxiety caused by never feeling like you’re doing enough. If you’re taking your kids to an appointment or spending some quality time with a loved one, resist those urges to check incoming emails and pings, no matter how strong.
Doing so will only blur the line between work and life, which then serves to further your feelings of guilt. When it comes to keeping your personal and professional lives separate, you can’t keep one foot in both – you need to be entirely present in one or the other.
Change your perception of what being productive is
Next, you need to rethink what you know about productivity. Productivity is not being able to read and reply to every single email that makes its way into your inbox, nor is it attending an endless amount of meetings, tending to each and every piece of busy work that makes its way across your desk, or taking on an inhuman amount of work each and every day.
Productivity is setting specific goals and consistently working towards them, not bouncing from one task to the next, or worrying about what’s coming around the corner. With a well-defined goal in mind, you can better develop a plan of how you’re going to spend your time and accomplish this goal. Only then can you move onto the next task, using the same principle of goal setting and planning to accomplish it, and so on and so forth.
Stop thinking of productivity as simply being busy. Productivity isn’t about “how much” – this is called being busy, not being productive. Productivity is spending your limited time wisely and completing the most important tasks and projects on a consistent basis. It’s being able to prioritize, block off parts of your day, and dedicate your attention to one major project at a time, rather than constant context switching. Productivity isn’t about the amount of hours put in or work generated, but rather how effectively you’re spending your time and what the results are.
Stop being afraid to ask for help
If you’re consistently finding that you’re unable to complete all the work assigned to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not doing enough. Having too much on your plate consistently can quickly lead to your burning out, which is the last thing anybody wants. If you’re feeling overburdened and like you’re being expected to complete more work than you can possibly manage during your working hours, it’s time to ask for help.
Since only you can know when you’re being overburdened, it’s very likely that your employer or manager may be unaware that they’re demanding too much of you. Asking for help can lead to you getting the resources needed to excel, which could very well mean hiring somebody to shoulder some of the burden or reassigning some projects to other employees who don’t have as much on their plate. Getting the help you require will give you more time to tend to the important projects assigned to you so you’re not being pulled in several directions at once, working during your off hours, or burning.
Use the tools at your disposal
The wonders of modern workplace technology have made just about every process we undertake easier and more convenient than ever before. Using the tools at your disposal can help you overcome productivity guilt and become a more effective employee. Whether it’s a simple time management/project planning app that helps you list out what needs to be done and visualizes your road to achieving your goals, cloud-based communication and collaboration suites like Google Workspace or Office 365 to help you make the most of your time working, or communication tools like Slack to keep crucial information organized and accessible, you should be using technology to help you overcome obstacles wherever possible.
This is also true for managers and employers looking to help their employees who might be feeling overburdened, overworked, or who are just suffering from productivity guilt. Productivity intelligence tools like Prodoscore offer actionable productivity insights that give you unparalleled visibility into how your workforce is spending their time working. Using this contextualized productivity data, you’ll be able to spot employees who are trying to take on too much at once, those who are focusing their most productive hours on tasks that can wait, and employees who may be showing signs of becoming disengaged and burnt out.
This article is from Prodoscore.