Updated: Apr 27
*Disclaimer: This article contains mature language. Please read it at your own discretion.*
This weekend, I was extremely unproductive. I ended up spending most of my time in front of screens at home, and if you asked me, I would probably take a long time to recall exactly what I did. So, now I am seizing the end of Sunday to start drafting this blog to make myself feel better, because I feel shitty about how I spent my weekend. I wanted to put this here before talking about what makes sense scientifically and logically, because, honestly speaking, we all go through similar things as human beings. First, let us agree that productivity relates to a lot of different aspects of our lives. Being unproductive can make you feel like you are stuck simply because you are not actively doing something. It is important to note that resting is not being unproductive. Instead, it is a powerful tool to help us recharge and prevent us from experiencing burnout. This weekend, my unproductivity pertained to procrastination. In the era that we live in, productivity is more than work or education-related – it has also seeped into our social life. For example, FOMO (fear of missing out) allows ‘unproductivity shame’ to prevail in social settings. However, it is important to be mindful of the way that we view productivity.
Why Do We Have The Feeling Of Guilt After Being Unproductive?
Putting things off seems so easy on the surface, but the amalgamation of negative emotions that we experience afterwards can be quite toxic for our mental health. According to a group of researchers, during a period of procrastination, one of the few emotions experienced alongside this phenomenon is guilt (Pychyl, 1995.) There is something rewarding about taking a break but there is always that lingering feeling of guilt when you feel like you have not ‘earned’ it. You may also feel guilty because you are overworking yourself and are clouded by the toxic work culture that is perpetuated through social media nowadays– in this case, please do take a break. However, if you are anxious about a task and are avoiding it, which does more harm than good, then we suggest that you address exactly why you are avoiding this task and face it. When your decisions are based on negative sentiments towards yourself or the thoughts of others, such as guilt, it is time to rethink your motivation and reframe your perspective.
The feeling of guilt, in this scenario, relates to how we define ‘unproductivity’. Unproductivity is defined as not producing goods and services with exchange value (Collins English Dictionary). This was and still should be a technical noun used only for the production of goods and services. However, in this capitalist society that uses ‘productivity’ to measure a person, just ‘being’ is considered unproductive. There are a lot of reasons contributing to this phenomenon, but a big part of it is the perceived transparency that we are getting through social media. Nowadays, we are able to see practically everything everywhere on the internet. We are looking at strangers’ lives through lenses, which ultimately puts immense stress on viewers who inevitably compare themselves and their lifestyle to those that they see on social media. From the opposite end, it is also stressful to be watched and judged by people whom you have never met in real life. Social media can raise your expectations of yourself to unhealthy and unrealistic levels. Think about it, it is good to aim high, but are unadaptive means of achieving unrealistic goals really necessary…or healthy? This constant comparison can cause a vicious cycle of negative motivation – indeed, you are still able to achieve your goals, but forcing yourself to complete your tasks out of guilt and shame can create a toxic relationship between your wellbeing and performance.
So, Is There A Solution To This Dangerous Norm?
Before shedding light on the solution itself, I would like to bring your attention to some of the red flags that you may experience with this dangerous norm. Remember that you can only solve a problem after identifying it and its root causes.
Consider the following phrases:
Feels guilty about not studying/working because other people are.
Feels bad about staying at home because everyone is socializing to the max.
Feels horrible about procrastinating but continues to do so because they are not motivated, and feels even worse afterwards because they just cannot seem to get motivated.
Feels shitty about anything that makes them feel good personally, and is not deemed worthy by people around you or the society in general….
Do any of these phrases sound like you?
I am not trying to prove anything, but rather trying to make you see that you do not have to experience these feelings. At several points throughout one’s life, one gets tired and stops to take a rest. That is a typical pattern in life. However, some people may stop taking breaks because they see breaks as ‘a sign of weakness and inefficiency, or unnecessary’. Things are moving at a faster pace now, thanks to technological advances, and we are moving even faster. Now, I am not making an excuse to procrastinate in work or social life - both are essential parts of my life. The real question here is how can we be productive without messing with our wellbeing? It is all about moderation.
Changing your perspective on productivity can be done. The challenge is to identify with your new perspective and realize that you can achieve your goals while prioritizing your health and wellbeing, without feeling guilt or shame. Here are 5 tips to help you achieve this change:
1. Accept who you are
Being willing to improve does not mean putting yourself down when you are not at your best. You can only be better if you accept who you are now and continue working towards who you would like to become.
2. Accept that you will feel tired and demotivated
Nobody is perfect – you will never feel alert and motivated 24/7, humans are not built like that. When you do feel tired and demotivated, ask yourself why and address these root causes. Always dig deeper.
3. Know that what is affecting you right now will not affect you forever
Have you had a childhood experience where you thought your world was about to fall apart? When you look back now, does that event seem so significant? Does it feel slightly comical to you or even ridiculous? It can be difficult to see the bigger picture when we are going through a situation, which is problematic because this can alter our perception of the world entirely.
4. Being overly productive can be counterproductive
Being productive is a good thing, but good things do not always come out of being productive. Getting things done is no doubt important, but everything has good and bad sides - and so does productivity. When you are obsessed with the idea of being productive (or frankly anything else), you may become so heavily focused on that single thing that your life essentially revolves around it. As your comparative expectations become unrealistic, your disappointment will also grow. This could throw you into a negative mindset before you realize that you have been missing out on the positive things in life. This type of obsessive focus just diminishes any form of joy, don’t you think?
5. Know what being productive means to you
The most important takeaway from our article is to know what productivity means to you. Everyone has a different mode of working and living, hence we may all have different perceptions of the same concept. Having your own expectation and standard of productivity will help you in terms of setting a realistic goal, and making sure that you do not get swayed by others’ opinions and behaviors. It is definitely easier said than done, but having your own interpretation of productivity is the key to finding balance.
On the side note, here is a quote from a blog that I saw, named ‘Fuck productivity’:
You deserve to merely exist.