Productivity = self-worth?

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[Written By: Hannah West]

The irony of me writing this article is that I have been putting it off, and off, and off – procrastinating entirely and finding something else to do the minute I sit down at my desk.  But that’s not all – I’ve also had the exact same internal fight every single time this has happened. I end up beating myself up about the fact that I can’t seem to find it in myself to be productive, even when I know how much time I have to do something and what my other commitments are.

However, this is a habit that I am trying to quit – and, strangely enough, I’m not talking about the procrastination (although, really, I think we could all do with a little less of that around deadline time).  The habit I’m trying to kick is beating myself up every time I don’t achieve as much as I want to, or every time I put something off until the very last minute.

I didn’t even think about the fact that being hard on yourself might not be a great idea until I was listening to my newest audiobook, The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins, where she talks about how to make genuine and authentic changes to your life that will actually stick.  The section of this book that really spoke to me and surprised me was the section on productivity; Robbins says that when we procrastinate, it isn’t because we are lazy – it’s because we’re stressed.  She says that the brain calls for immediate gratification (such as online shopping or watching cat videos) when we feel stress, which causes us to put off the things that are really going to make a difference to our lives.  She also recommends forgiving yourself for procrastinating, claiming that this is the first step to making yourself more productive in the long run.

Hearing this was the first time I realised that maybe my tendency to procrastinate had nothing to do with me not being cut out for university, or just being a lazy person in general.  I also realised that I had always lumped my productivity and my self-worth together in that way, measuring how well I’m doing in life by how much I got done in a given day.  But when I thought about this a bit harder I realised how problematic that outlook is and how detrimental it can be.  The truth is that productivity is an endless stream of to-do lists and it’s very hard to ever be satisfied if that’s what we base our self-worth on, since there will always be something else to do.  Furthermore, the shame I’m sure we all feel when we fail to be productive can be very disheartening.  It is important to remember that hard work can be very different to productivity, and when we don’t reward ourselves for hard work it can be damaging to our self-esteem and confidence.

Another interesting thing I noticed when I began to pay attention to my tendency to be hard on myself post-Netflix-binge is that sometimes the shame I felt actually stressed me out more and stopped me from being productive. Often, it would feel like I was stuck in a continuous and, frankly, very counterproductive shame cycle.  What works a lot better is actually looking to do something meaningful and of a high quality, rather than simply trying to do a lot. Aside from this being far more achievable, internally rewarding ourselves for doing something well is a lot better for us mentally than the shame cycle we enter into when we try to be highly productive and proceed to judge ourselves based on that.


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