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Productivity guilt can make you feel like you need to continue working, even when you know you need a break. People can’t always perform at the same caliber day after day, but in a hustle culture, productivity is valued above all else. When you can’t perform at 100% each day, you may start to feel guilty.

Toxic productivity lies in the need to feel productive every waking hour. You might think you need to work instead of rest, and maybe you’re searching for something to do at home that will keep your hands busy outside of regular working hours, even something like cleaning the same spot twice. Here are a few things you need to know about productivity guilt and how it affects your life — and how you can squash it.

1. Separate “Busyness” from “Productivity”

Some people will continue to tackle new tasks just to keep themselves busy. Busyness can be detrimental, especially if you’re not working on something with substance or value. It’s okay to take a step back and not work on something. What people could consider lazy is often people taking care of themselves and trying to prevent further burnout. You should always work with your goals in mind and make choices to prioritize them.

2. Learn How to Break Up Tasks

People aren’t supposed to work long hours without a break. When you feel your mind start to tune out of your work, you need to take a break. Stand up and look away from screens if you’ve been sitting at a desk. Your brain will be grateful for the opportunity to breathe.

Other times, you may feel like you can’t take a break due to all the work you’re responsible for. That’s when you need to learn how to break up your tasks effectively to save some parts for after your break. Check in with yourself after each section to ensure you’re still feeling fine.

3. You Need to Prioritize Your Health

When you’re overworking yourself in the name of productivity, you’re likely hurting yourself in other ways as well. Something else may contribute to your feelings of burnout, like not sleeping enough or not nourishing yourself properly with healthy foods. Your physical health and mental health work together for your benefit.

Over 30% of working Millennials struggle with mental health issues, namely depression, which can lead to several bad decisions, such as pushing themselves harder at work or self-medicating with addictive substances. Check in with yourself frequently to understand your mental state. Your tasks should challenge you in a good way, but if they’re doing more harm than good, you may need to make a choice to preserve your health.

4. Try to Understand What Drives It

Understanding your productivity guilt is the first step to making a plan to deal with it. Are you more fear-driven, thinking that you’ll lose your job if you take the appropriate amount of breaks? If so, what can you do to try to relieve some of that fear? You could talk to your supervisor or someone else about how to better use your time in a way that benefits both you and your employer.

5. Set Realistic Expectations for Yourself

You cannot expect to have a highly productive day every day. You should aim to improve a bit each day, but you don’t need to be operating at 110% always. Some days, you may not feel up to doing the same caliber of work, and that’s okay. You need to set boundaries to ensure you feel comfortable and are treated fairly, no matter how you may feel that day. As long as you make up for it on the days you are feeling good enough, you can balance your responsibilities and be gentle with yourself without holding your productivity to an unrealistic standard.

6. You Need to Allow Yourself to Relax

Unfortunately, in such a busy world, you may feel like you need to be productive every single day. However, productivity is only essential for tasks you need or want to get done. If you have some downtime to yourself, allow yourself to do something fun instead of searching for something productive. Though it might feel uncomfortable at first, forcing yourself to relax can be good for you and help lower your stress levels.

7. Almost Everyone Experiences It

You’re not alone in experiencing guilt over your productivity levels. Many people struggle with taking a break or even taking it easier on themselves. One of the best things you can do for yourself is learn what time of day you’re most productive and try to optimize your work around that timeframe. Everyone is different, so what works for you may not work for another person. The best you can do is strive to improve your working habits and allow yourself to relax when you need it, all while understanding this feeling often happens to most people.

Fight Productivity Guilt By Caring For Yourself

Checking in with yourself frequently can help you understand when you need to take breaks. Fortunately, most employers and team members should understand when you need to take a break. After you’ve allowed yourself to relax, you might notice that you’re more productive than you have been since you’ve been feeling burnt out and worried about your productivity. Sometimes, all you need to do is prioritize yourself. Then, you’ll see a return on your investment in the form of easier, more efficient work.

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