While everyone knows what productivity and anxiety are, have you ever heard the two terms put together? I hadn’t but when I did, everything clicked and I knew I was suffering with it.
So, what exactly is productivity anxiety?
Essentially, it’s the feeling that you are never doing enough. No matter how many hours you work or how much you get done, you never truly feel satisfied with your achievements because there is always more to do.
Productivity anxiety is also characterised by a sense of shame for doing things that you would consider ‘unproductive’. So even on a day off, you’ll feel guilty for not chipping away at your neverending to-do list instead of allowing yourself the time and space to rest and recover.
While from the outset constantly working seems to be the quickest way to get ahead of everyone else, it can actually put you much further back down the line.
This constant need to be ‘doing’ something can quite quickly result in burnout, resentment of your work, or even mental health issues, such as anxiety in other areas of your life.
Never allowing yourself to relax or feeling incredibly guilty when you do is a harmful mentality.
For me, productivity anxiety started out as just a few harmless to-do lists, which over a few months became longer and longer. They suddenly became so overwhelming that I was doing nothing but work and never truly enjoyed the things I was doing anymore.
My hobbies were abandoned and when I finally took a step back to look at it, I realised I couldn’t even be efficient in my work anymore because I wasn’t spending the time filling my own cup and was therefore overly exhausted.
We need to change our mindset to recognise that spending time on our hobbies, practising self-care, or just taking time out to recover is essential to work at an optimal level. It’s the most sustainable way to continue smashing your goals and achieving a healthy work-life balance.
Now that you understand what productivity anxiety is and how harmful this mentality can be, here are the 9 telltale signs that you’re suffering from it and what to do about it.
1. You never take the time to truly rest
Like I was, if you’re never spending time doing things you enjoy or taking time to rest because you feel an intense shame about being switched off, then chances are you’re suffering from productivity anxiety.
Resting should never feel like a crime and is actually essential to retaining optimal productivity levels.
If you’ve come to this realisation but still find yourself stuck in the cycle of ‘doing’, try to shift your mindset and find the value in taking time off.
For me, I found adding things like ‘take a bath’ or ‘spend an hour reading’ to my to-do lists really helped me no longer push these important leisure activities to the side.
2. Doing things makes you feel in control
By constantly ‘doing’ things people feel like they can control the outcome of their careers or their lives.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that even the things we think we can control like our careers is not always the case. If you’re someone who thrives off feeling in control of your life start thinking about control in a different way.
What’s the one thing we absolutely can control? Our time. Time is so consistent and never unpredictable, unlike our lives and our careers.
As we get older we see just how valuable our time is, so when you’re constantly in overdrive take a step back to consider where your days are being spent.
We need to not only consider our time but also take control of it and that can be a super empowering thing to do. Set yourself time limits for work or schedule in time for self-care or relaxation.
3. It feels necessary to be valued
If you feel like you need to constantly be busy in order to feel valued in your work or your life, then you might be a victim of productivity anxiety.
The world we live in today places high value on busyness and even praises it. This toxic idea is basically highlighting that your output is of more worth than your values and ambitions. So, many people have in turn come to believe that the busier they are, the more valued they will feel.
Instead of thinking and accepting all of the things you ‘can’ do, ‘choose’ the things you want to do because they align with your personal values, morals, and beliefs.
This should be the most valued for any individual and the more people actively involve themselves in this, the easier it will be to shift the world’s internalisations and busyness culture.
4. You struggle to sleep
This one is an easy symptom to spot.
If you’re struggling to sleep because your mind is actively racing through all the things you need to get done or you’re feeling guilty that you didn’t get enough done today, the cause could be productivity anxiety.
Whenever I’m falling back into the cycle of this anxiety, my sleep is always the first indicator.
While there are tonnes of things that can cause sleeplessness, if you notice that your thoughts are quite specific to productivity shame then you likely need to make the changes listed above and below in order to get some quality sleep again.
5. You never feel like you’ve done enough
People who suffer from productivity anxiety will never be satisfied with what they achieve or get done because it will never feel like enough.
They feel the need to constantly be busy and are extremely critical of how efficiently they can get through things. And this is generally because they never spend the time to reflect on and celebrate the things they actually did!
Start looking back weekly or monthly on everything you achieved and take the time to celebrate how amazing that is and how it’s helping you reach your bigger goals.
And if you didn’t achieve all that much, reflect on why that was the case and how you can better move forward.
6. Distractions help you ignore your feelings
If you know you’re suffering from toxic busyness and productivity anxiety, have you ever thought about why?
Maybe it’s because you think you need to keep working to be valued, maybe you don’t want to fall behind the crowd, or maybe because it helps to create distractions that allow you to ignore your feelings and emotions.
Many people don’t want to be alone with themselves because with that can come a rush of feelings that they don’t want to or aren’t ready to process. But shutting these emotions down is certainly not the productive thing to do.
Give your feelings space, lean into them and use mindfulness techniques to help recognise them. While you’ll need to set the time aside to work through these, it will bring healing that allows you to succeed even further in your life.
Plus, working through your feelings is certainly an achievement!
7. You feel like everyone’s always doing more than you
Just like how they’ll never be satisfied with what you get done, those with productivity anxiety will always compare themselves to others.
Whatever they do will be nothing in comparison to someone else. But, the reality is everyone is on a unique journey and at a different stage in their lives.
Just because one person can smash through their goals in a few months doesn’t mean you can too. Plus, what’s the point of achieving things that someone else did when it doesn’t align with your inner values and ambitions?
8. Self-worth and achievements are intrinsically linked for you
Our society ties self-worth together with achievements.
We praise the high achievers and we sympathise with those who don’t or can’t achieve greatness.
But shouldn’t our self-worth stem from our core values, morals, and beliefs?
The world might say otherwise but there’s no better time than the present to shift this narrative. Your self-worth and your achievements are both super important but the two should never be intrinsically linked.
9. Your goals are unrealistic
Setting yourself goals that are unrealistic is the perfect fuel for productivity anxiety.
No matter what you do or achieve you’ll forever feel miles away from your desired destination, which in turn makes you feel like you’re not doing enough.
Instead, you should set smaller short-term goals that help you in time to achieve your bigger dreams. And if things take a little longer than expected it’s important to be okay with that. Not everything in life will go to plan and goals will forever be evolving.
Just remember that what you’re doing right now is enough and no matter how long you take to make your dreams become reality they (and you) are just as worthy as people who get there a bit faster.
This article was originally published on A Girl In Progress.