In my previous post, How Perfectionism is Holding You Back, I wrote about the pervasive force of perfectionism and how you can find ways to re-frame your mindset and control perfectionist thoughts. This post will focus on the cousin of perfectionism – the productivity trap.
The Productivity Trap
I don’t think this is a real thing, but for the sake of this article, let’s pretend it is. Let me explain what I mean when I say “the productivity trap”. Do you sometimes feel down about yourself, feel guilt or shame, or feel unhappy because you were not “productive” on a given day? Do you sometimes (or always) feel driven by a silent voice whispering slyly in your ear, “You need to be productive! Anything you do that is not productive is a waste of time.”?
That’s the productivity trap. You might not know where it came from or who made you feel this way. Sometimes you don’t even have anything to lose, at least in an immediate sense, if for some reason you were not actually productive. It’s the mere principle of fearing you are being lazy, that you are wasting time, that you are not accomplished, or maybe even that you are missing out, simply because you believe that you were not productive.
Here’s the thing – it’s exactly that, a belief, not a truth. Productivity is a construct – you can define it, and your definition of it can be different than someone else’s definition. If you have perfectionist or idealist tendencies (like myself), your expectations might be unrealistically high, and it can be so easy to fall into this trap of feeling down when you “wasted” two hours watching Tiny Desk performances on YouTube instead of cleaning the house, or instead of reading your book, or instead of continuing to learn how to crochet like you said you would.
Why It’s a Trap
This train of thought is a trap because it is self-defeating. It will cause burnout – which is especially a problem is you are feeling fatigued or burned out in multiple arenas of your life. Burnout from the imminent need to feel productive on weeknights and weekends will only exacerbate your mental health if you are also feeling burned out at your day job. And what happens when you feel fatigued, burned out, and overworked? You will want a break. But wait! Your perpetual need to feel productive won’t let you.
Here are some ways to break that vicious cycle.
Breaking the Cycle
If this sounds like you, trust me – I’ve been there. Sometimes, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I start doing something and feel an undertow of resistance. All I want to do right now is lay down on the couch and listen to music because I’m tired… but I shouldn’t. I can’t stop going down the rabbit hole of watching Taylor Swift videos on YouTube, but I need to stop. I’ve already watched two episodes of this television show and want to keep watching… I’m being too lazy. These aren’t even conscious thoughts half of the time.
To break this cycle, it can be helpful to remember that sometimes, you just need to rest and recharge your battery. Like your smart phone, you are likely expending so much energy just going about your day (whether it’s mental, social or physical) that at some point you are nearly running on empty and need to recharge. These urges – like wanting to lay down and listen to music, watch TV, or get sucked into YouTube – can be signs from your brain and body that you need to take a break and recharge. Some of the best advice I have ever received was to simply listen to your body, and in times when I’m craving a lazy day, I fully embrace it.
The second part of this is that having lazy days or bouts of what you might think of as “un-productivity”, ARE ACTUALLY PRODUCTIVE. Seriously. To the person who has perfectionist tendencies, who is a Type-A, or who can’t seem to know how to simply relax sometimes, please read this again. What you might consider un-productive, can actually be considered productive. If you need to lay down on the couch doing nothing for a few hours, it might seem un-productive since you aren’t technically crossing anything off your to-do list, but it is productive in that you are giving your body REST so you can RECHARGE and get back to your to-do list later on. I’m going to keep bolding, italicizing and capitalizing these words and concepts because it is so important, I promise.
As a bonus tip, if you are someone who is committed to crossing items off your to-do list, try adding “Rest” or “Watch two hours of TV” to your list. If you’re the kind of person who needs to schedule everything or is extremely busy and would die without a planner, schedule time in your calendar for resting. Maybe even napping. Because sometimes, the sleep you get at night might not even be enough rest to keep you from feeling burned out.
All in all: Make time to rest and recharge. Allow yourself to “do nothing” sometimes. Listen to your body if it needs rest; listen to your brain if it wants to do mindless tasks for a little bit. At the end of the day, you can have all the energy in the world, but remember that you are human – and that sometimes it’s perfectly okay to not be “productive”.
You can break out of the productivity trap.