Productivity shame is a real thing. If you’ve ever felt like your entire day was a waste or that “I suck!” because you didn’t get everything or ‘enough’ done then you have likely experienced productivity shame. It is the experience of feeling that you must do or complete a variety of tasks to be good enough. You might also experience it as the quest to the perfect balance or just-the-right-balance of life: being productive at home, kicking butt at the office, also getting to the gym AND contributing to the community… only to feel not good enough because an item got dropped or only half done. It is the sensation that there must be something wrong with you on those days that you just can’t seem to get anything accomplished.
Sound familiar? You are not alone! Just the other day I stumbled into my own productivity shame. The set-up was classic… I had to drop my kids off at daycare by 8:30 AM so I could attend 2 different doctor’s appointments for 2 different kids within 90 minutes of each other. Then I had to completely switch gears and face 2 hours of business paperwork. By noon I felt beat by the day. I tried to refocus in a half-dozen different ways but felt no closer to the motivation, focus or accomplishment I desired. Shame set in like a thick fog.
If you struggle with productivity shame there a few things you can do in the moment and hours that follow to get yourself feeling better. First, take a deep breath and slow down for a moment. Put that productivity to-do list aside – you’re only fighting an uphill battle at this point so save your energy. Then, follow these three steps:
1. Check yourself for burnout. This is important because those of us that use productivity as a means to feel good-enough often overwork. We sometimes pride ourselves on pushing through rather than resting and taking care of ourselves. It might be that you need a day to reset your brain and body. How do you do this? A few ideas include doing something creative or playful that is not work related: craft, bake, garden, dance, read a non-work book, etc. You might also schedule an impromptu lunch or coffee date – get social! Go outside and walk in the sunshine or visit a local pond to catch a cool breeze for 30 minutes. Get spiritual by engaging with something inspiring (e.g. a documentary, memoir, literature) or clarifying like a guided meditation. I know it’s hard to slow down but trying to beat productivity shame with more productivity is, by definition, insanity.
2. Be kind and gentle with yourself. If you absolutely must lean into your craving for productivity go for an easy option. During the busy day, I described above the only thing I could even imagine getting done was baking chocolate chip cookies. For fleeting moments I could imagine myself completing and enjoying the process (and eating a handful of ooey-gooey deliciousness afterwards!).
So ask yourself, what do you really want to do today? What is the one thing that will make things feel lighter, maybe more joy filled? Scrap your typical to-do list and be fearlessly honest. You might recall you’ve been wanting to give yourself a pedicure or manicure. Do you want to pop some popcorn and watch a movie? Do it and enjoy every moment. You can always reassess your next step after the movie is over.
3. Take a deep breath and notice the shame. Shame is the idea that there is something wrong with YOU – that YOU must be inherently flawed and that’s why you’re struggling. If you are feeling something uncomfortable within you as you read this blog I want you to stop, breathe and see if you can locate where that feeling is in your body. This is important because shame cannot survive being seen and exposed.
Now, remind yourself that you are not the problem. The behavior is the problem and that’s good news because we can always change behavior. My productivity flop that afternoon was likely the result of over scheduling myself, not drinking enough water, not eating a big enough lunch and feeling overworked the day before. These are all things I can try to adjust or avoid in the future. Look at your own choices. Is there a chance you’ve done or not done something that set you up for the productivity shame you’re feeling right now?
Shame is no joke and productivity shame is especially tricky. We live in a world where days are measured by what we do or how we appear: work hard, keep a clean house, have spotless children… But it just isn’t sustainable. You well know the pressure of trying to balance all the tasks. And there is a lot of emotional labor involved when trying to hold a busy week’s schedule in your head, anticipating your next move, trying not to drop the ball and all the other things. If you are struggling then I hope you’ll reach out. Counseling can help you move from shame and feeling not-goog-enough to clearer, calmer and more confident. In the meantime remember to breathe and find that feeling in your body, check yourself for burnout so you can do effective self care and then be easy and gentle with yourself going forward. You can do it.