The word is thrown around an awful lot these days, but what does it actually mean to be ‘productive’? Does it mean getting up at 6am every single day? Does it mean pushing yourself to overachieve at work?
Going to the gym four or five times a week? Learning a new skill, mastering a hobby, eating healthily, it can mean any number of these things really. Productivity is essentially about spending your time wisely to maximise your potential.
So when we spend an entire day sitting in front of the TV, playing video games or aimlessly surfing the web, we tend to feel like we’re not being productive, and we experience what’s known as ‘productivity guilt’.
It’s a horrible feeling, but there’s two sides to this. Firstly, it’s kind of good to be able to acknowledge the fact that there’s more you could be doing. To feel like you could spend your time in a way that would better you as a person.
But on the other hand, it would be completely exhausting to be productive all the time. There’s a reason why we feel like a desire to shy away from effort and hard work at times. Humans need relaxation.
Our bodies and our minds are not built to be on the go all the time, we require time to settle and allow our bodies to heal from work and our minds to center themselves. We’d go crazy if there was always some objective dominating our thoughts.
What you need to do is find a balance and importantly, you need to be able to deal with productivity guilt in a healthy way so that it’s not always bugging you when you should be trying to relax. Here’s a few ways to do that:
1. Stop Thinking About the Results
For every goal that you have, whether it’s a personal one or one that is imposed on you by your job or whatever responsibilities you have, it has a process and a result. An endpoint that you will eventually reach where your goal is achieved.
Something that a lot of us tend to do is to only think about this endpoint. We see that as the true achievement, and don’t focus on how we’re going to get there. By doing this, we allow the goal to hang over our heads while we’re still working on it.
And as a consequence, we can’t truly be satisfied until we’ve finished the job, which unfortunately makes the process frustrating and irritating. Considering our employed life is going to spent working towards assignments, this is poisonous thinking.
It makes it difficult to truly enjoy your life because you spend most of it in a state of anxiety and anticipation over whatever goal it is you’re working towards. What a waste of a life right? Don’t let this happen to you.
You can avoid it by changing your perspective. Forget about the endpoint and instead just focus on the process itself. Take the time to think about what you’re doing and learn to appreciate and enjoy it.
Even if it’s something that most people might find dull, if you reframe your thinking you can look for ways to make it enjoyable for yourself. And by not focusing on the result, your productivity guilt will lessen.
2. Don’t Waste Relaxation Time
As I said before, you always need to give yourself time to relax and you should try and avoid feeling guilty about that. One important thing to note is that you should relax the way you want to and not the way you think you should.
When asked the question ‘what do you do in your free time,’ people tend to be reluctant to mention things like Netflix or video games. There’s a stigma to not spending your relaxation time productively.
Isn’t that bizarre? You’re expected to be productive even when it’s not actually necessary for you to be productive. No wonder productivity guilt is so prevalent in the world today. You get home on a Friday after a hard week’s work and now you feel like you should go back out.
And of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t go out and hang out with your friends or go on a roadtrip or something if you want to, but don’t feel like you have a responsibility to do that. Free time means that you’re free to do whatever you want.
If all you want to do is spend the entire weekend on the couch watching reruns of Friends, then just do that. Don’t force yourself to go out just because you think you’ll feel useless if you don’t. You’ll just spend the whole time wishing your were at home.
You were productive all week, and also, it costs less money to stay on the couch. Probably not wise to blow the entire weeks work before the next week even starts, and that’s something you should learn as early as possible.
So let your free time be your free time and spend it how you want. Don’t worry about fulfilling some kind of arbitrary role as an active person if you don’t want anything to do with that role. And with that in mind:
3. Don’t Compete
In addition to that fact that humans are sort of hardwired to be goal-oriented, a big part of the reason why we experience productivity guilt is because we often compare ourselves to our peers.
We see others being more productive at work and then doing more productive things in their free time and it can make us feel inadequate. It’s a perfectly normal human response and we’re actually kind of taught to feel this way when we’re in school.
But at the end of the day, this is a load of nonsense. Ultimately there is always going to be somebody who is achieving more than you are. We all have different skills and different levels of focus and concentration.
There’s nothing wrong with working harder on yourself if you can see that it’s possible to do better, but what others are doing shouldn’t be a factor in how you structure your life and your time. Life is too short for that.
So forget about what everyone else is doing. You are you, and you should work at your own pace and how you choose to work.
Productivity guilt is a perfectly normal thing to feel and the upside to it is that it proves you care about the things that you are working on. But there is no real reason for you to have to go through it and you won’t have to if you change your perspective.