Productivity guilt is the constant need to pile on tasks and add to your workload to avoid doing nothing. Here are 5 ways to maintain the work-life balance you need. 

Although there are many self-help articles and books about optimising your time to become more productive and get more things done in a day, this thought that we should be constantly doing more can be toxic. Productivity guilt is the constant nagging feeling that you should be doing more. This idea is often reinforced in the workplace, so we begin to stack meetings on meetings, work during lunch hour, and ask “what’s next” after completing a task.

Especially when working from home, it feels like we’re not doing enough and feel guilty if we take a 15 minute break. The line between work and life has been blurred; we want to achieve more, and become a better version of ourselves. The pressure of excelling at work, having the perfect relationship, and also maintaining side businesses and hobbies has become so overwhelming that we don’t even remember the last time we sat down in front of the TV and just mindlessly watched a show. Here are 5 ways to overcome productivity guilt.

1. Manage Your Time Realistically 

The planning fallacy states that we tend to underestimate the time it takes for a task to be finished and overestimate our abilities. This leads to a cycle of overplanning our schedule, becoming overwhelmed when something unexpected occurs, and ending up frustrated when we have not finished all the tasks in our to-do list. Instead of focusing on that one unaccomplished task, try to recognise all of the items on your list you have completed. Time blocking is a productivity planning method used by successful CEOs like Bill Gates and Elon Musk: divide your day into blocks, prioritise which task is more important, and dedicate a specific time interval to complete it. This method is a great way to accurately distribute your time wisely, and will also allow you to focus better. Be sure to block out time for rest and relaxation.

Women planning her day

2. Accepting the Imperfect

With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic causing many people to work online and some companies to cut employment, many workers are feeling anxious about job security. Taking on more than they can handle and wanting to let their boss know they are working hard even while at home are all factors that can cause workers to suffer from mental burnout, which is the process of becoming mentally exhausted due to prolonged stress. The best way to defeat the feeling of guilt is to understand the idea of imperfection. Rather than feeling bad about not finishing a 7/10 task, reward yourself and don’t feel upset about incomplete tasks, which can be finished the next day. Another way to beat productivity guilt is to compare less; oftentimes we hold ourselves accountable to someone else’s standards and assume we have the same ability.

3. The Importance of Rest 

We often associate taking a small break with being lazy, or wasting time. Around one third of APAC remote workers are feeling burnout which can be caused by lack of breaks leading to fatigue, lack of focus, damaged eyes, and poor decision making. By taking breaks, your brain processes visual and mental cues throughout the day, recalls memories, and shapes our identity and social behaviour better. One of the ways you can ensure you are taking breaks is to set up “break appointments” and set a timer to make sure your break does not go overtime.

Women resting on a hammock

4. Redefine Success 

Success is in the eye of the beholder, and should not be based on outcome, but instead on the process. If you put the end result on a high pedestal and prioritise it over your well-being and self-care, it can cause a negative ripple effect and become detrimental in the long run. Instead, try to redefine success to being more mentally present and understand that taking time to care for yourself is not making yourself a failure.

5. Learn Something New 

Having a hobby can actually allow someone to have better work performance, allow them to improve their physical health, and also reduce stress. Most often, when we feel like we have not done enough in a day, it is mainly due to feeling a lack of progression. By learning something new each day, this cycle of repetitiveness can be broken and give you something to focus on other than work. It can also become something you will look forward to each day, and learning something new will also build and improve your cognitive functions like concentration, memory recall, and problem solving.

Man playing piano

High productivity is often positive, however, if it becomes an obsession, it can lead to negative effects like workaholism and productivity guilt. These thoughts often stem from one feeling the need to measure up one’s self-worth, usually valuing workload and achievements over wellbeing. To end this cycle of feeling guilty for doing nothing, it is important to always put yourself first and never feel bad for taking a quick rest to rejuvenate and regain your energy.


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