Taking a break can be hard. When we spend so much of our time on homework, projects, and extracurriculars, we get in the habit of always working. And sometimes, our work consumes us, and we start to feel the constant pull to go back to our desk, even when we’re trying to watch a movie, read a book, or hang out with friends.
That nagging feeling has a name: productivity guilt. Productivity guilt is the constant feeling of not creating, achieving or working hard enough, and can also appear as a sense of shame when trying to relax.
If you are feeling guilty about your lack of productivity, then you are not being truly productive at all…
Productivity guilt is “often the result of the unrealistic expectations” we create for ourselves, according to the Harvard Business Review. Maybe you expect to write an entire paper, complete a week’s worth of math assignments, read half of your English book, and film a Flipgrid all in one night (good luck!). Or maybe you expect to live out the perfect, idealized life you envision for yourself, which is almost always easier said than done.
No matter how extensive your daily to-do list, when dinnertime rolls around and you have not accomplished as much as you hoped to, the guilt sets in.
This guilt “is a signal that things are not going the way we think they should,” says NPR. “So, the way to work around guilt has to do with changing the way that your frame your environment, the way that you reset your expectations, the way that you restructure your life.”
By working to live a healthier, more balanced life, the guilt is less likely to show up in the first place, and when it does, you will be able to recognize its presence, turn your back on it, and keep going.
So how do you combat productivity guilt? First and most importantly, stop comparing yourself to others.
Whether you are comparing yourself to someone who has it all together on Instagram or the girls you sit next to in class, everyone is different, and what works for them, will most likely not work for you, too, and that is okay. Find what works for you and stick with it.
Next, recognize the difference between being “busy” and being “productive.” Business is “having tasks piled on top of you and running around frantically trying to balance them all,” according to Isaac Lowton from Lifehack.org. “But productivity is a state of doing what we truly need to do to reach our goals.”
Another way to combat productivity guilt is to reach for 70% productivity and think of rest as productive. When we constantly reach for 100% productivity, we often fall into a cycle of constantly trying to get everything done, usually at the expense of our sleep and wellbeing.
By reaching for 70% productivity, we cut ourselves some slack and have more time for rest, socializing, and self-care. Rest is important and will give us the physical and mental energy to be more productive when it’s time to buckle down and get to work.
Finally, recognize and love your imperfections and congratulate yourself when you accomplish something. The harsh reality is that it is impossible to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone falls short of their crazy to-do list, and very few can actually live the perfect life we so often see on social media.
Constantly beating yourself up for the small things does not make for a fun, enjoyable (or productive!) life.
Your imperfections are not holding you back from reaching ultimate productivity. Nobody is the same as you – value your effort and growth, and congratulate yourself when you accomplish something, rather than crossing off a task and mindlessly moving on to the next one.
Now all of this is not to say that productivity is bad and that you should not challenge yourself.
Productivity is not a bad thing; in fact, productivity is often healthy and beneficial. Challenging yourself and taking up leadership roles in your community are both great ways to grow and develop in numerous positive ways.
So yes, taking breaks can be hard, but breaks are important to our overall wellbeing. There is a time and place for both productivity and relaxation. The trick is finding that balance.