Productivity doesn’t mean “doing stuff” all the time, and you don’t need to feel guilty for taking a break.
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Can You Be a Little Kinder & Give Yourself a Break?
I’ve had several recent online and in person conversations with other women who expressed feeling guilty about taking time off. Frankly, I’ve felt it myself. There’s always something to do, and it’s easy to feel like if we’re not doing it, we’re doing something wrong. It seems like an epidemic of guilt, based on the (mistaken) belief that to be a productive person you have always be doing something “productive.”
With the holidays coming up, we’ll have even more on our plates. Add to our job and/or caring for our home and family the expectation to have a festively decorated home, delicious home-cooked holiday meals, and perfect gifts, plus being sociable at all the holiday parties. I thought perhaps now would be a good time to talk about this problem we have with never taking time off for ourselves.
Symptoms of the Problem
In The Productive Women Community Facebook group a member recently asked if it was blasphemy to take a day off.
Why do we feel like we are doing something wrong if we are not doing all of the time? Why do we think we have to apologize for being unproductive? (And is taking a break really “unproductive”?)
We worry about what others think about what we do with our time. We allow ourselves to feel guilty for taking a break–for even needing a break, as if it’s a sign of weakness or a character flaw.
Sometimes we subconsciously believe that our worth is based on the things that we do.
How could it be defined as lazy for a person who works a long day at her job or caring for her family? Why do we feel that’s lazy if we take a night off? We think we have to always be doing something. Either working out or improving our minds. Even our leisure time is over scheduled and over programmed. We are taking classes or working with a trainer.
We keep adding more and more stuff to our to-do list and appointments to our calendar instead of taking a night off to sit in the backyard and watch the fireflies or lie on the couch to watch Gilmore Girls. We continue to feel guilty and we mistake busyness for productivity. We think if we are not busy doing something that has some value that we are not being productive.
Here’s the truth: What we do is separate from who we are.
Misconceptions About Productivity
If we feel we are only productive when we work on something purposeful then we need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be productive?
When we talk about being productive it’s not about getting more stuff done. It’s not about always checking things off the to-do list and always make our to-do list longer.
The definition we use on this show is this:
The productive women is the woman who orders her life in such a way to maximize her positive impact on the world around her.
This can be the world at large or the world within the four walls of your home.
It’s not about doing more and more stuff.
Even making a life that matters doesn’t mean racking up achievements and crossing off to-dos and completing projects.
Fun and relaxation are part of a meaningful life. It’s not measured by the money we earn or the awards we’ve won or the projects we’ve completed.
We don’t need to produce in order to earn our spot on the planet. There is a price that comes with always being that busy.
The Price of Always Being Busy
We feel exhausted because we get worn out if we never get a break. We also may deal with burnout, which is defined as “a chronic state of stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” Symptoms of chronic stress include chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness/impaired concentration, and attention, as well as physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and more. We may also experience increased illness, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, anger, loss of enjoyment, pessimism, isolation, detachment, feelings of apathy and hopelessness, increased irritability, lack of productivity, and poor performance.
We may feel a disconnection from the people we care about and from ourselves because we are so busy doing for them we don’t actually have time or energy to spend with them.
We may also feel dissatisfied with our lives or resentment for the things we are doing.
We may lose perspective about what really matters in life.
At the end of the day, the ironic price for always being busy is that we lose our ability to maximize our positive impact on the world because we are trying to do too much.
Benefits of Taking a Break
Giving ourselves permission to lighten up and take a break will pay priceless dividends.
- We’ll be healthier in every way: physically, psychologically, and emotionally.
- We’ll have a better perspective on what we want out of life.
- We’ll be more creative–there’s lots of science to support the idea that laughing and relaxing allows our mind to be more creative.
- We’ll experience reduced stress, increased serotonin levels, (the chemical that regulates body processes like sleep patterns, memory, body temperature, and mood).
- We’ll simply be better able to cope with the demands of our lives.
Questions to Ponder
How can you allow yourself permission to plan to have time off? It’s a matter of managing how you think about it. Consider:
- What does it mean to you to be productive?
- Why is it important to you to be productive?
- What if “wasting time” was good for your mental health and balance? (A great question asked in an article worth reading: “5 Ways to Make Time for Yourself“)
- How can you make time for the things that matter–including the downtime your mind and body need–by cutting out the less important things from your schedule?
Consider whether you can make it a priority in your life to take some time off, because doing so will restore balance in your life and in the end help you to be more productive.
How to Get Past the Guilt and Enjoy Yourself
This takes a little work on our parts, to manage our own thinking and deal with the emotions that pop up when we feel the need for a break. I’m not a psychologist or an expert on this by any means, so I consulted the work of others who have great suggestions for learning to relax without guilt.
One writer takes us encourages us to acknowledge the guilt, take action where appropriate, then let it go and move on. (I encourage you to check out “How to Enjoy ‘Me Time’ Without Feeling Guilty“)
Consider time off as investment in your emotional, psychological, and physical health (Find more in “5 Ways to Make Time for Yourself Without Feeling Guilty About It“).
I highly recommend Guy Kawasaki’s often-quoted advice from “Let’s Stop the Glorification of Busy“, including:
- Redefine success. (We usually use money and power to define success, but that leads to burnout. We should use different metrics to define our success.)
- Avoid burnout. Try not to think of being busy as a badge of honor.
- Nurture your well-being.
There seems to be an epidemic now of feeling guilty if we are having fun. We’re trying to accomplish things that matter and be productive–and that’s a good thing. But if we’re defining that in such a way that we feel we’re doing something wrong if we take time off, we need to rethink what it means to live a meaningfully productive life. I encourage you to take some time for yourself and not feel guilty about it.
A couple extra resources:
What Do You Think?
What do like to do for fun and relaxation? And when’s the last time you did it, or just took some time off for no “productive” purpose? I’d love to hear your thoughts–in the comments section below, or on the TPW Facebook page (or in the TPW Community Facebook group)–or email me!Click here to discover my favorite apps!
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