How much of our day is spent with an undercurrent of guilt about not doing enough, or wishing things unfolded differently?
We’re surrounded by promises that if only we adopted this productivity hack, we could feel different, be different. Yet when we inevitably go off track, we revert to feelings of guilt, anxiety or shame.
After years of moving through this cycle, I think instead of expecting our days to run smoothly, perhaps we need to banish the productivity guilt that comes along when they don’t.
The productivity guilt spiral
There are many ways we can find ourselves experiencing productivity guilt—be it a relentless demand placed on us, a resistance to rest, feeling overwhelmed, or even our comparison to others and feeling like we’re not doing enough or keeping up.
The invitation here when we are experiencing productivity malaise is to swap being self-critical for being self-reflective.
Instead of lamenting that we didn’t get through our to do list, or criticising ourselves for “doing nothing”, we can be reflective and see whether perhaps we put too much on the to-do list in the first place, or whether we need to expand our definition of productivity to include the inevitable ebb and flow of energy, interest, time, and attention.
Kindness is the antidote
Interestingly, I think when we address the guilt, anxiety and shame, we are better placed to work on what matters most in a way that is sustainable.
Of course, much of the anxiety and guilt comes from complex systemic issues that see people working longer or needing to juggle multiple jobs. But a step we can all take is through kindness. We may worry that if we are kind, we or those we manage may become complacent—but this is an ungrounded fear.
When someone is kind to themselves and others, they experiment, they try things, they are unafraid of failure, they are doing what is important to them because they’ve found a way to sidestep fear and be flexible and accepting—without the pressure, we can be more productive.
Acceptance precedes action
As suggested, kindness is what can open us up to acceptance, which puts us in a place to take action. That’s because once we accept our limitations, we can work with them.
We can accept that we are in this particular season right now. We can accept that things take the time they take. We can accept that things can wait. We can accept that our priorities shift. We can accept that we may not achieve inbox zero. We can accept that we cannot be all and everything, everywhere at once.
In summary, we can notice what sends us down the spiral, we can find a way to move out of it with kindness and acceptance, and we can work with the moment we have, instead of taking the guilt into another day.
Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”