Productivity guilt is something I battled for years. After burning out too many times, I completely overhauled my lifestyle, business model and the way I work. These days, I no longer see rest as lazy or unproductive — but a necessity.
This doesn’t mean I don’t slip back into old habits sometimes. It’s an old pattern of behaviour and I’m human. But I’m able to keep it in check most of the time.
Here are my 4 top tips to manage productivity guilt:
#1 — FOCUS ON PROGRESS, NOT PROCESS
As a high-achiever with a big mission, it’s easy to beat yourself up for what you don’t get done. And it’s this focus on the process which is a huge source of productivity guilt. To keep this in check, it’s critical to acknowledge the progress towards your goals.
Start celebrating each step you take and every milestone you reach along the way. A great structure to support this is to review your successes and lessons on a daily or weekly basis — and write them down. When you give your brain the evidence it needs to recognise how much you’ve accomplished, you remove those fears of being ‘unproductive’!
#2 — PUT PRIORITY PROJECTS FIRST
You may be busy — but are you productive? Do you spend your days working on lots of smaller, unimportant tasks which are easy to tick off your to-do list? Answer this truthfully!
It can feel like you’re being productive as this ‘busyness’ gives you an immediate hit of achievement — yet it’s always short-lived. Because if you’re not focusing on your priority projects, you’ll make little progress towards your big goals. And this is when the productivity guilt starts to sink in!
Instead, break your goals down into smaller micro steps. These are the specific steps you need to take to complete each goal. At the end of each day, identify the 3 most important tasks to work on the next day.
Also, know your number one priority and finish this task before moving onto anything else. I recommend blocking out a chunk of time — even 15 minutes — first thing in the morning to work on your priority projects. This practice has helped me make serious headway into some big projects in the past year.
Remember: when you put your priority projects first, you will reduce productivity guilt!
#3 –SLOW DOWN, TO SPEED UP
I heard about this concept a few years ago and as a recovering overachiever, it resonated. Science also backs up the theory slowing down at times helps you speed up later. Because if you’re always ‘on’, stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol build up in your body and eventually burn you out.
It’s vital to prioritise self-care and take time out to bring yourself back into balance. Begin by putting boundaries around your work hours. Block out your holidays and take regular breaks throughout the day.
I like to work in 50 minute blocks, take a break to grab a glass of water or stand up and stretch every hour. I’ve also been intentional about taking a walk at lunchtime — even for ten minutes.
Whatever space you take, schedule it into your calendar and make a commitment to yourself to stick to it. And most importantly, enjoy this time — don’t feel guilty about it! Because when you slow down when you need to, you WILL speed up later.
#4 — PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION
Negative self-talk is one of the most damaging effects of productivity guilt. So rather than criticising or judging yourself, practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is all about treating yourself the way you would a good friend.
The first step is always awareness: noticing when you feel guilt or shame about not being ‘productive’. Then, you can consciously choose to be kind to yourself and think, feel or believe something different. When you practice self-compassion, you will beat productivity guilt!
So there you have it. The exact strategies which have supported my clients and I to stop feeling guilty for not being productive. I hope they help you too!