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Self-imposed productivity

Why do we force ourselves to be productive all the time?

You might have read our article titled “How to use your time in quarantine meaningfully.“ Are you constantly trying to find ways to increase your productivity to make the most out of this time where most of us are being forced to stay at home? Do you feel that, no matter how productive you try to be, you’re falling behind with your goals and your life satisfaction is consistently going down? Maybe you got caught in the productivity trap!

The productivity trap

guy expressing frustration for lack of productivity

Would you consider yourself to be a productivity freak? Are you the kind of person who feels uneasy when they don’t have anything to do? Even when there is nothing else you should be doing? Do you think that you should be doing something, just anything, even though you are on vacation from work or university or it’s your day off?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you’re probably caught in the productivity trap. Let me show you the way out.

When productivity is a bad thing

Some people can’t help but think about work no matter what they are doing. Their lives revolve around work. They are what some people may call “workaholics”. However, you don’t have to actually work to act like one. Many students have that same attitude. They feel obliged to be doing something productive all the time, to be busy no matter what.

woman looking worried while worrying about what she'll do to keep up with her old productivity levels

Why is that a bad thing? Because the brain can barely distinguish between our thoughts and our reality. Therefore, thinking about work is almost as exhausting as actually working.

Our minds need rest. As it has become obvious in the past centuries, productivity is higher when we are fully rested, so we all need rest in our schedule too. That is why work schedules foresee lunch breaks, coffee breaks and days off. If you are constantly thinking about work, you aren’t profiting from anything of that.

What I mean by that is that, by not being able to fully relax when you’re supposed to, you might end up completely exhausting yourself. And I guarantee you that you don’t want to experience what expects you at the end of the road if you don’t change your behavior: burnout.

Why do we develop this kind of behavior?

1 Resting was made not ok

girl hiding face with her hands in shame

A child doesn’t have to be taught to rest. It is a natural human behavior. However, at some point in their development, some children learn that it is not ok to rest. How? By being told so by someone, most likely their parents or caregivers. Maybe because they were or are workaholics themselves. Maybe they envied the fact that you were resting while they had to work hard and made you feel inadequate for resting even though you needed it.

How would your parents react to you lazing around all day? Chances are, negatively. If so, you might be unconsciously trying to avoid their or anyone’s disapproval for being caught not doing anything productive! It’s time to become conscious of this pattern and realize you get to do whatever you want now that you’re an adult, including resting as much as you find necessary.

2 Maybe you are letting have-to’s control your life and you’re living on auto-pilot

Another possibility is that you are unconsciously using work or study to keep your mind busy and away from painful thoughts. You were constantly moving between tasks, from one location to the next, with no time to stop to breath and re-evaluate your life. Maybe your daily life pre-COVID-19 was made out of many things you didn’t want to do, but you thought you had to.

Now, chances are, most of your “have-to’s” have been put on hold for some indefinite time. Every day, you wake up and can decide on what you’ll do with your day. But you don’t know what to do because you lost touch with your true self. You don’t even know what you would be doing if you could do anything on this planet. However, you have a deep-seated belief that you aren’t good enough as you are, so you have to do something productive to prove that you have worth and something to offer to the world!

If this resonated and you want to internalize this feeling that you are enough and perfect the way you are, I recommend the material of therapist and behavioral therapist Marisa Peer