One of the biggest traps that I find that my clients fall into is tying their productivity to their self worth. Today I’m talking about why this is so problematic and how to deal with it if you’re struggling.
One of the pitfalls that I have seen over and over again is tying your productivity to your self worth. It’s something that I have done — and still have to catch myself with — and I have seen client after client struggle with it.
The thing about productivity is that it stops when you stop. If you’re not doing something, then nothing is getting done. Now I would argue that some days — especially if you’re chronically ill or temporarily sick — breathing and surviving are in fact getting something done. Resting is productive.
However, that’s not how most people view it. In fact, that’s not how I viewed until I didn’t have a choice anymore. Until I was totally burned out and realized that if I didn’t start focusing on my health that pretty soon I wouldn’t be able to do anything — no matter how much coffee I drank — I didn’t think about rest as “doing something”.
That is the danger. Because our to do lists are constantly being filled up and have an average of 150 things on them, it will never all be done. Often by crossing one thing off the list, you end up generating another to do. Something you may not have even considered when you started the project.
Because of this tying productivity to your self worth means that you can never have a bad day and not beat yourself up about it. If you’re sick and you can’t get the laundry done, now you’re physically miserable and then mentally trashing yourself on top of it. Ask me how I know.
It’s incredibly helpful to change your mindset around productivity. In this article I’m going to give you 5 ways that you can stop tying your productivity to your self worth.
WHY TYING PRODUCTIVITY TO SELF WORTH DOESN’T WORK
The problem is that it doesn’t matter how much you get done, there will always be more for you to do. Always, always, always. I have never, not once, got up in the morning and thought
“there is absolutely nothing I need to do today. The house is spotless, the children can entertain themselves, and all my food is being delivered.”
And even if I would get going like crazy and do 2 loads of dishes, 6 loads of laundry, educate the children, make meals, work on my business, I used to still struggle with thinking more needed to be done the second I stopped to rest.
In fact, every time I laid down in bed to take a break or spent an extended stay in the bathroom to hide from my kids (memo to me – that doesn’t actually work – they find you, they always find you) I would feel an immense amount of guilt. And it wouldn’t matter how much I had gotten done for that day, when my husband would come home from work I would immediately get up and do something so it wouldn’t look like I was lazy.
This is not a humble brag — I 100% mean this because it’s who I am — no one in their right mind would ever call me lazy. I have ADHD to thank for this because sitting still actually kind of feels like torture. When it gets really out of I hand I can get more stuff done in a day than some people do in a week. And I can STILL feel guilty about not doing more.
And I know that all of this isn’t just me. I’ve seen it time and time again in women that I know and women I have coached.
One of the questions I find that I need to ask most of my clients is “will it ever all be done?” It could be about work or home repair or school. The answer in every case is always a resounding no. Because it’s not possible, and yet it’s frequently an astounding break through for the client to realize it.
There’s a big difference between just saying to yourself, out of frustration, I’ll never get it all done and actually realizing that:
That’s totally true
That’s totally normal and okay
WHY TYING PRODUCTIVITY TO YOUR SELF WORTH IS SO DAMAGING
Besides the fact that it’s simply not possible to be effective and productive 24 hours a day, tying your productivity to your self worth comes with a side of shame. There’s this mentality that comes with this mindset that not only says you should to be productive to be a worthy human being, but it also says that if you’re not, that it’s shameful.
The amount of praise you give yourself for doing things is so much lower than the amount you beat yourself up when you don’t get stuff done.
Just because you could be working doesn’t mean you should be working. But that is the very lie that we tell ourselves when we think this way.
Even if you haven’t taken a break all day and you’ve got 5 minutes of alone time, you still are thinking well I can sit but I ought to be checking my email or sending a text or making a call. And if you don’t do those things you beat yourself up for the only 5 minutes you’ve gotten all morning.
Always thinking about what you need to do prevents you from enjoying the present moment. Therefore stopping to take a break doesn’t really provide the relief that it should.
And if you’re like me when I was on the road to or in burnout, you’re struggling to have the energy to do things, but the mindset hasn’t changed. So instead of trying to change the mindset, you’re forcing your body and mind to cooperate by filling it full of caffeine.
This process only further drains your energy, and it doesn’t take away any of the shame associated with not getting all the things done. So the downward spiral just gets worse and worse.
HOW TO CHANGE THE THOUGHTS AROUND TYING YOUR PRODUCTIVITY TO YOUR SELF WORTH
Changing your mindset or thought habits happens in steps.
What are you thinking?
The first step is to become aware of your thoughts. When you sit down to take a break, what happens?
Do you start thinking about all the stuff left to do? Do you never really take a break where you don’t do anything productive? Do you “rest” but really just sit there for 5-15 minutes beating yourself up about not getting anything done?
Just become aware of what you think about when you’re not being productive, or haven’t had a very productive day.
Come up with a replacement
You are about to change the things that you tell yourself. In order to be able to do that, especially when the thoughts are swimming around your head like sharks, you need to be prepared with a new, and better, thought pattern.
The choice of replacement is up to you. It could simply be something like my value is not in how much I get done. Or you could remind yourself of all the wonderful things that make up who you are — and that none of those things are how much you accomplish.
Even if you are a factory worker (which is where a lot of this mentality stems from in our capitalist society) the value of you as a human being is not dictated by how much you get done.
You are valuable simply because you exist. You do not need to prove that to yourself or anyone else by accomplishing all of your to do list. Especially because, as we’ve established, that is impossible.
Take a moment and find a mantra or make a plan for how you’re going to replace the thoughts. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or complicated — in fact the simpler, the better. But what it does need to do is ring true to you and give you positive energy. The new thought should be in stark contrast to the draining effect that tying your productivity to your self worth gives you.
Switch your thoughts
The next step is to work on changing the thoughts themselves. I’ve talked about this process before. Changing thought patterns is work. It’s uncomfortable, clunky, awkward, and time consuming. And totally worth it.
The process is simple. Every time you notice yourself having thoughts about how you have to go do something or you’re failing somehow, then you need to stop the thought and replace it.
This is going to take some time to get used to. Please do not beat yourself up further because you aren’t doing this “right”. There is no right. There is only change. And in this case, positive change.
Every time the thoughts come up change them. You might not believe the thing that you’re telling yourself, but do it any way. Eventually not only will you stop the old thought pattern, you will actually buy into the new one.
OTHER WAYS TO BREAK THE CYCLE
Do something “unproductive”
Because we are living in the efficiency economy, those that struggle with tying productivity to self worth struggle to do anything that doesn’t help create something or cross something off the list.
Even when it comes to your job, you need time and space to do things that aren’t necessarily productive. Major companies like Google give employees days where they get to work on whatever project they think is awesome that would help it’s users. This is where Gmail came from.
Even though there’s no guarantee to Google that anything usable will come out of the hours that these employees put into these side projects, they know that giving people space from their every day will help them. Which directly helps the company.
Therefore breaks and creativity actually help your productivity. You can’t go a whole 8 or 10 hours straight and expect the level of productivity to stay high. Our brains just aren’t built for that.
So even if you need to tell yourself that time spent relaxing, or making art, or exercising, or meditating fuels your potential productivity later, then so be it. It’s absolutely true, and it helps you see the value in taking time away.
Go start a project for yourself. Make something for no other reason than you enjoy it. Or go do something that doesn’t have an end goal. Do something who’s purpose isn’t profit or improvement. The other stuff will wait.
Step away from technology
In this modern society with all our devices and alerts, much of our productivity stems from working on a computer or phone. Contrary to modern beliefs, you don’t actually need these to survive.
I catch myself all the time sitting at my computer to work and not actually working. I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time. I get sucked down some rabbit hole, and don’t realize it.
When I do I either get back to work or acknowledge the reason that that happened is because I needed a break and I didn’t take one. Sometimes this even happens before I’ve even gotten to what I set out to do that day.
But I can go days without being on my computer, and I will be just fine. And so will you.
Set a time of day (for several hours) or a whole day where you turn off all the devices and go slow living style. Inform friends and family what you’re doing so they don’t think you’re ignoring them, but let them know you’re not available to text or scroll social media just then.
This will help you fully let go and go off and do something just for fun. It allows your brain to let go of the concern it holds over notifications and frees that energy up for creativity.
Worrying about being productive all the time leads to living in the future. You’re always concerned about what you’re going to get done and not living in the present. So take this technology free time to let go of all that, practice some mindfulness, and get into the here and now.
If you’re struggling with stress or burnout, contact me here. I’m a trained coach that’s lived through burnout, and I am out to save as many people from that struggle as I can.