managing productivity guilt

Best Remedies to Managing Productivity Guilt

by Timileyin Precious

Do you ever get angry at yourself after a day of inactivity? Maybe, you have a to-do list, and you could not even finish one task off it? Or maybe you procrastinate. You know, that feeling of worthlessness that creeps in after, especially when you try to figure out what your achievements are over time? Yes, that feeling is productivity guilt.

It is common in this dispensation where your self-worth depends on how busy you are. Do you know that feeling is not exclusive to you? Yes! The anger, the helplessness, and the consequent depression! They are all under the umbrella of productivity guilt.

You can’t escape it. Irrespective of whichever career, caliber, or economic class you are. One would expect that this guilt would push you forward to do more. However, the reverse is always the case.

Most times, it makes people set unrealistic goals.  When we do not achieve them, the aftermath guilt becomes worse. The pressure to do more that arises from this proves always to be counterproductive. Ultimately, it leads to depression and other mental health-related problems.

It’s not a modern thing- the Zeigarnik effect

Maybe it’s as a result of a modern trend? Maybe it’s because of social media? Is it probably common to young ones? Put your mind at rest; productivity guilt is not exclusive to any age group.
Scientists discovered the psychology behind it in the 1920s

Bluma Zeigarnik mapped out the psychology behind this feeling in what she called the Zeigarnik effect. After her experiments, she deduced that the human consciousness naturally draws towards unfinished tasks (sometimes even the ones not yet started). Once finished, the brain eliminates this attraction. This is responsible for the nagging feeling you get when you can’t finish your to-do list

Ovsiankina effect

In addition, Maria Ovsiankina also discovered the effects of interruptions on human cognition. She also termed it the Ovsiankina effect. These scientists discovered two things that we should take note of:

1. Productivity guilt is not a mental illness: However, it continually affects you, It disturbs your basic cognition and can cause depression. 

2. It is not exclusive to certain human demographies: It is not an everyday thing either. It is a general human thing.

What causes productivity guilt?

Now that we know all that, you would agree with me that to deal with a problem, one of the fundamental things to do is identify its root cause. It is worth mentioning that there are very many factors that induce productivity guilt in people, depending on that individual, his career, and his environment. Below are some causes that are common to a wide range of people. These things are consistent causes of guilt and accompanying depression.

Unrealistic goals

We suffer from productivity guilt because of unrealistic goals we set. When we set lofty goals, they are often beyond the scope of the resources available. Hence, very unrealistic. Eventually, when we can’t attain those goals, the guilt messes with our cognition and ability to attain simple goals

Sometimes, people set goals feasible for a year for just three months.
Don’t think you are innocent; we are all guilty of this, one way or the other.

Read also: Key elements of time management to stay productive for a long time

Social media and the illusion of business

Social media creates the avenue for individuals to project the best part of their lives. You get to see achievements, flashy cars, neatly trimmed gardens, and all sorts of beautiful things. It has created a perspective imbalance. It exposes perfection and beauty, not to the hard work and the other things factored into it.

At times, content meant to motivate or induce positive feelings produces counterproductive results. For instance, a social media user on Twitter shared a post that encouraged people to “brag on themselves,” solely as a means of encouragement. Now imagine the effect of that on people who do not enough to brag about

Sure, no one should slack off. However, social media platforms have created an illusion of 24-hour business. Nowadays, your self-worth as an individual depends on how huge your workload is. Motivational talks, hardcore pieces of advice, and ostentatious display of achievements all create a certain ebb of a continuously busy society.

While all these are should motivate and boost our general rationale, which they sometimes do. They sometimes place people under unnecessary pressure.

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Cultural factors and peer pressure

In my part of Nigeria, parents place unnecessary pressure on young individuals. If not all, most young men in Nigeria, probably, due to a heavy sense of responsibility and some financial obligations, have been pushed under the bus of depression.

It is, even more, pronounced when their peers don’t appear to have the same issue. Productivity guilty sometimes heightens because of comparison with other people.

Read also: How to invest in yourself with these 18 tips

Easy ways to manage productivity guilt

Now you know some things that cause productivity guilt. We also know that it is an inherently human thing. By implication, we can’t completely do away with it.

However, we can manage it, and below are some of the ways to do that.

Goals and goal monitoring

  • Set realistic goals in units

A sure means of managing productivity guilt is setting goals in little, and achievable units. For instance, as a writer that has a deadline to beat, don’t wait till the deadline. You may choose to write down a specific number of words each day until you have the required number.

Breaking your goals into achievable bits and working on them gives you the confidence to work towards subsequent bits. Little drops- as they say- do make a mighty ocean.

  • Make use of organizational tools

These are applications or software that help to optimize daily task performance. This way, you can break your goals down into achievable bits, and you can monitor your progress. There are various types of organizational tools available. They prove to be efficient methods of managing Productivity guilt. To-do lists, alarm systems, and reminders are also an example of organizational tools.

However, caution is necessary here. Organizational tools, when misused, create more mess than necessary. You should use them within the boundaries of necessity. Consider the things necessary for your day’s work and set goals that will fit in.

  • Keep track of your daily achievements

Don’t ever feel you have achieved nothing. Regularly, sit down to analyze your achievements, even the very basic ones among them. Doing this would give you a constant feeling of self-worth. Self-worth creates a kind of mental barricade against the depression that arises from Productivity guilt.

Mental Fortification

  • Clarity of thought and workspace magic

Sometimes clarity of thought may be just what you need to manage productivity guilt. It is important as an individual that we give ourselves time for introspection. What is my ultimate goal? What are those things that I get mad about? Who are the people that triggered the feeling? What achievements of theirs do I like?
Clarity makes setting smaller goals much more easy.

A workspace – even the simplest of them- aids clarity of thoughts. Especially a neat workspace.
When you feel less productive, try to hop back to your workspace. It does work.

  • Do not forget you are human too

Sometimes, we worry too much about achievements and overestimate our abilities as human beings. Sometimes, circumstances may drive your goals into a ditch. Furthermore, some occurrences can throw your plans into the webs of standstill. When this happens, pat yourself, check through your record, you are not poor or lazy.
Doing this makes you a victim of circumstances. It means that you are embracing your imperfections as a human being. When we realize this, managing Productivity guilt becomes a lot easier for us all.


Productivity guilt always clogs the wheel of personal development. It impedes general progress. Being a Nigerian youth may be an extra disadvantage. Managing productivity guilt is going to make you a lot more productive, happier and better. What are you waiting for? Start acting will you!

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About Author

Avatar of Timileyin Precious
Timileyin Precious
Akinmoyeje Timileyin Precious is interested in code, history and culture, and philosophy. He is a fellow at the African Leadership Institute. He does writing as a thing for the culture.

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