Working from home as a freelancer or when you’re self-employed sounds like a great way to manage your time. With less time spent on commutes, working from home seems like an effective way to dedicate time to work. However, unlike an office which has repeated scheduled routines, when you work from home you determine how often you work. This can easily lead to productivity guilt whenever the time is spent away from work and on leisure or errands.
People who work from home often don’t recognize holidays or weekends because they try to spend every working moment on labour. When guilt drives how often you work, you’re more likely to not take breaks or easily get burnt out and even work less. As a result, this creates cycles where you’re unable to work because you feel overwhelmed and end up guilty.
Using guilt as a motivation for work can lead to overworking. Spending time for yourself can feel unjustifiable. This is especially when doing anything meant for self-enjoyment. Chores like laundry may not make you feel guilty. Research found that many people feel like any time spent on personal leisure felt like wasted time. Spending time that doesn’t feel paid for feels like a loss of income.
Why productivity guilt kills your work
The reason why your productivity suffers when you have guilt is because you’re setting unrealistic expectations on yourself or you are struggling to focus. This can come from comparing yourself to others or overestimating what you’re capable of. You may also have productivity guilt because you equate your well-being to focusing on your hustle. This is unsuitable for your mental health.
As a result, this leads to a cycle of poor productivity. This can lead to chronic stress, fatigue, sleep problems, body pains, anxiety and depression.
How to deal with productivity guilt
Productivity guilt is feeling bad about spending time on yourself rather than working. It leads to intrusive thoughts where you feel inadequate to the task and unable to meet your career goals. When overwhelmed by tasks, you can end up manifesting as cognitive paralysis. Feeling like you’re inadequate or not good enough prevents you from completing your tasks. This can put your position in jeopardy and you need ways to manage productivity guilt.
1. Set realistic expectations
Organise and break down your tasks based on how important they are. You can decide what to put first in order of urgency or importance. In addition, you can also see what needs to be pushed to another day. You can also see what can be pushed off to the end of a period. This can reduce productivity guilt and pressure. You can also create a schedule where you focus on work tasks earlier in the day and then focus on personal activities at the end of the day or week. In between your tasks, set aside time for breaks to reset your mental energy.
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2. Do experiments
This can help reduce anxiety towards tasks. You can try radical ways of dealing with work such as the pomodoro method where you dedicate 25 minutes to work and then take a five-minute break. In addition, you can try to do work with friends online and keep each other accountable. This can help you stay in perspective and realise realistic goals are more likely to be successful.
3. Avoid busyness
Selecting productivity over busyness helps you avoid menial tasks that take up too much time. Busyness also includes juggling multiple tasks or focusing on many forms of media while trying to focus on work. Productivity needs you to focus on your goals. If you’re used to watching TV while working, this can also make you less productive and make you achieve less within your day. If you need background noise, try using ambient music.
You can also make sure you leave chores until after work or beforehand. Creating a timetable can help you avoid busy tasks and more on your urgent tasks.
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4. Champion yourself
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If you’re working with a group of friends over Zoom or Teams, tell them about your to-do list. This way they can encourage you every time you complete a task. You can also do this for yourself using a rewarding method. For example, once you finish a report, you can buy yourself some ice cream or watch an episode of your favourite sitcom before heading back to work. Celebrate any progress to keep yourself motivated and continue being productive. You can also lock your phone and set it to unlock after a certain amount of time. Once you’ve accomplished your tasks, you can check your social media and messages as a reward.
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5. Figure out what’s causing it
When you know exactly what is triggering your productivity guilt can help you take steps to address it. If what’s causing the guilt is internal shame, you can try using self-compassion to lift yourself from that fog. External guilt comes from management. You can address it by speaking with your supervisors and realigning their expectations and your capabilities. When working from home, it’s easier to negotiate how many hours of work you can dedicate to your job.
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6. Break down big goals into smaller tasks
Working to complete a task can feel daunting. This can be what’s causing your productivity guilt. If you’re struggling to complete a task, dividing it into small tasks makes it less difficult to deal with. Say you’re working on a book, instead of trying to reach a certain plot point you can try to write a few hundred words as a separate document so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by the word count.
Ultimately, the best way to ensure you remain productive when you’re struggling is to make sure you don’t let productivity rule your life.
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