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What Is Productivity Guilt?

Danielle Bertini, LPC

Today’s world: You need to exercise at least five times per week. And not just running, it needs to be heavy weight-lifting or high-intensity interval training. While also doing a keto diet. And drink three gallons of water a day. Oh yeah, don’t forget to meditate too. 

Make sure to wake up at 5am, those are the most productive hours of the day. Wow, you just spent your time watching television? You should have spent that time reading an educational book. Probably something by Shakespeare. Or maybe Aristotle. 

Sound familiar? This is what is known as productivity guilt: the constant nagging feeling that you should be doing more (Young, 2018). If not, you’re a lazy slacker who will never reach your goals. Unfortunately, this is a very common phenomenon in our world today. We need to stop telling ourselves the guilt is good. Sure, guilt can sometimes motivate us. However, it does so at a high cost and with a lot of negative side-effects. 

Here are three ways to help avoid productivity guilt:


  • Stop Comparing Yourself to Others


Cliché, I know. But it’s very true. Just because someone you follow on Instagram gets up at 5am and runs 10 miles before going to work until 7pm doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. There are actually massive costs to living a “productive” lifestyle. Before you compare yourself to someone else, try thinking about what they are sacrificing. If you’re okay with those sacrifices, then carry on. If not, it’s not worth the comparison. 

This being said, it doesn’t mean that you need to live a life of least resistance. In fact, you should actively seek challenges and push yourself in some aspect of your life. However, if you’re feeling guilty about your lack of “productivity,” then you’re not going to be very productive at all (Lowton, 2015). Which goes into the next point.


  • Realize the Difference Between Being “Busy” and Being “Productive”


Many people are busy. Busy-ness is a state of doing what you are told to do, having tasks piled on top of you and desperately trying to balance them all. Often times when people say “I was so productive today” it means “I had the time to do all the things my life required of me today.”

Productivity is a state of doing what we truly need to do to reach our goals. While there might be some level of busy-ness involved in this, cutting down the unnecessary and focusing on what is essential is a good way to boost REAL productivity (Lowton, 2015). There are plenty of online resources about how to do this. However, the main point here is to not feel guilty because you haven’t completed all the tasks you set for yourself. Realizing the difference between being busy and being productive is a great first step in cutting out some of the unnecessary guilt. 


  • Your Starting Point is Always Here


A real source of guilt isn’t because the standards imposed on us are too unrealistic or even undesirable, but because there is always a gap between how we see ourselves and how we would like it to be (Young, 2018). 

The right move to make is the one that pushes you a little, but takes where you are as a starting point. This includes your psychological strengths and weaknesses. Yes, it would be nice if we were perfect human beings with infinite discipline, time, resources, and intelligence. But we are not. With this in mind, the question is not “What should I do, ideally, to solve this problem?” But rather, “How could I do things differently than last time for a little better results?”

If you would like to talk about the ways you can be more productive and support your mental health, reach out to Symmetry Counseling to meet with one of our skilled therapists. We offer in-person and online counseling in Chicago to accommodate your schedule and lifestyle.


Young, S. (2018, December 8). What is Productivity Guilt? (And How Can You Prevent It?).

Lowton, I. (2015, December 4). How to Avoid Productivity Guilt (And become more productive in the process). Lifehack.

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