Are You Suffering From Productivity Guilt?

What is Productivity Guilt?

Do you suffer from productivity guilt? Guilt that you didn't get that important work assignment finished. Or guilt that you haven't started that house project you promised yourself you would start? Guilt that you are not being productive enough is a very real feeling for many of us. Sadly, those feelings of guilt for both work and your personal life will likely continue, until boundaries such as the ones mentioned in our 7 Boundaries Blog, are put in place – for work, personal time and even boundaries for our thinking. 

Why is Productivity Guilt on the Rise?

Work productivity guilt, or as we like to call it, 'work FOMO', is real and very much on the rise since Covid made homeworking much more attainable and preferable for many. The 'fear of missing out' – be it fear of missing out on a bonus or promotion, fear of looking less favourable than a colleague who is online until late, or fear that the big presentation in front of the boss won't go well unless you have memorised it within an 'inch of its life'. The fear of missing out, or the fear of not doing enough, affects many of us, and it can be crippling to our productivity and mindset. According to an article from Microsoft, three in five women feel they cannot do, be, or achieve enough, compared to two in five men.

Productivity Guilt and Burnout

So, how do you overcome that feeling of guilt? How do you avoid being one of those statistics experiencing burnout? The two are most definitely linked. In fact, productivity guilt can be the catalyst for burnout for many. If this is you, don't worry. Now that you have made this realisation you can take steps to overcome this and reframe your thinking.

Where Does Productivity Guilt Stem From?

Work guilt is classed as 'unreal guilt' by psychologists. You haven't caused harm, and the guilt isn't caused by the classic feelings of fear but rather anxiety. It stems from thinking about those things that you 'should' do rather than as a result of doing something accidentally (or on purpose) which affected someone else and that you feel bad about. Our internal nagging voice that we need to do something can be very powerful. The inner monologue to 'fix' that need can be repetitive and never-ending until the task is done. Whether it's finishing that work project tonight or getting those home improvements done so that you can rest easy – there is no shortage of tasks to occupy and overwhelm our thoughts and start the anxiety 'wheel' turning. This, folks, is productivity guilt.

So, where do these feelings of guilt stem from? Before humans had developed rational thought, action followed immediately after we thought of something: thought – action – guilt. Nowadays, when we think of something, action doesn't always follow, but the guilt still can. The guilt we carry around comes from what we wish rather than what we've done. So, how do you overcome this thought process? 

Overcoming Productivity Guilt

The guilt driving unhealthy habits and pushing boundaries generally originates from that inner voice we discussed earlier. But whose voice is it? Yours, right? Wrong. Although we claim that voice as our own, it usually stems from an amalgamation of previous or current influence. Be it your parents, a teacher, a manager, or just the culture we live in, there are many external influencers which shape how we think and take action – and the resulting guilt cycle.

Think of the culture in the Western world today. We think happiness is the result of achievement and success, three sides of the triangle that dictate our outlook. Just look at social media or turn the TV on – we are told this endlessly via the content we consume. However, we never ask the all-important question… how realistic are these expectations we see everywhere, compare ourselves to, and set for ourselves?

Productivity guilt can lead to chronic stress, affecting our ability to sleep and concentrate at work, and can result in us being less productive. It becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy, powering the guilt cycle as it worsens and our productivity lessens.

So, if it is that ingrained in our psyches, how can we possibly overcome this productivity guilt? For some, it could be as simple as making a decision and sticking to it. This can end the cycle of guilt that stems from indecision. For example, painting the bedroom you have been putting off, or choosing not to paint that bedroom as you need to prioritise rest that weekend – and accepting your choice.

For others, it may be because we are comparing ourselves too much to our peers or those we see in the media, consciously or subconsciously. This tends to focus us on the negative aspects more than the positive. We see our shortcomings, our imperfections, which can devalue our self-worth, rather than seeing our strengths. Instead, focus on comparing 'past you' with you now. Look how far you have come. This can improve our motivation and keep us on an upward trajectory.

Productivity Guilt: the Conclusion

Whatever may be the root cause of our productivity guilt, now is the time for inward reflection and to quell those inner voices telling us off for not doing more. There is always an endless list of things we need to do. It’s important that self-care and relaxation are at the top of the to-do list.


  • Joe Robinson
  • Better Help
  • Microsoft
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