Episode 63: How to Release Productivity Guilt

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So many of us feel frustrated at the end of the day with all that we did – or didn’t – accomplish. It’s guilt for not doing something. It’s also the guilt for not being able to PROVE we did something and then we think it’s not enough.  In this episode I’ll discuss:

  • Understand the 2 most common ways Productivity Guilt shows  up
  • Why it happens 
  • How managing your mind will free you from the guilt
  • Why Productivity Guilt may impact self-identified perfectionists the most
  • Perfectionism vs Professionalism
  • How to choose your own productivity hacks and not everyone else’s

Productivity guilt is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a mindset of feeling bad because real or perceived we think we are not creating, achieving, or working hard enough. 

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Read the Transcript
Hi folks, welcome, I am your host Jill Griffin. It has been an eventful few weeks in my world, my article that was published in FastCompany on ageism is still getting a lot of traction and I have clearly hit a nerve. Good. We need to shine a light on ageism and without awareness, we can’t have change. 

I also received an invitation to speak on one of my favorite podcasts. I will include the details on that amazing opportunity as the drop date approaches. 

And I was able to get away for a few days with 4 friends and fellow small business owners and entrepreneurs. We rented an Airbnb in Black Mountain, NC, and had time to write, discuss business strategy and get feedback from some trusted successful entrepreneurs. It’s funny when you are a solo entrepreneur, you don’t have peers. While I have a few amazing freelancers who support parts of my business, it’s not the same as having a peer or a co-worker. I have found over this 5-year journey that I have to carve time out to meet up with my peer group and share strategy, support, and stretch. 

Which brings me to today’s episode. I kept thinking, it’s Thursday. I am not working. It’s not Saturday. And I am not in trouble. I am thinking. And I have space to think. To strategize. But I don’t have output, beyond good thoughts in my notebook. Isn’t it crazy? Shaking this mindset has been an evolution for me and while it’s definitely improved over the years, I sometimes feel guilty. 

It’s my version of productivity guilt. I see clients, lead workshops, host a podcast, create content, am invited on others podcasts and I can still fall into this feeling of guilt that I should be doing more because people may not see my work until it drops. 

It’s very reminiscent of when I was an employee.

When we are in a world where we are always seeing what others are doing, watching the feed, and we may be tethered to what others see me do, the perception of the doing that when we work in a role that doesn’t tangible produce OUTPUT every day we can get anxious. 

My clients tell me they have the same feeling at times. 

I spent most of my career working in marketing, start-ups, strategy, and research. 

These tasks did not always produce daily SEE-able work. 

There was work done but I couldn’t really show you beyond my browser history or my time logged into a syndicated research database. 

Again, this is difficult when we are in a world that wants to see the doing, the progress, the behind-the-scenes, the milestones along the way. 

Do any of these sound like you? 


You think there is Something wrong with you because you can’t get it all done
– Or that you are not doing enough 
– You feel like you have to do more
– You are never feeling ok with whatever you choose. Whether it’s to rest and watch a movie or if you should get ahead of Monday’s workload. It’s tough

All of this falls into my version of productivity guilt. Productivity guilt is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a mindset of feeling bad because real or perceived we think we are not creating, achieving, or working hard enough. 

It’s guilt for not doing something. It’s also the guilt for not being able to PROVE we did something and then we think it’s not enough. 


We have this sense and guilt that we should be doing more. We look around us and think that we are not measuring up to the standard. Falling behind—everyone else is doing SO MUCH but I’m not. We judge ourselves. 

This leads us to lots of other unhelpful behaviors or thoughts. 


– As an entrepreneur and small business owner I often think If I work the weekend I can get ahead. Sometimes that’s the best choice best on the goals I have set for myself other times it’s the worst choice because I can’t think and my creativity has left the building because I am so tired. 

– There’s Perfectionism when I feel the need to both be perfect and keep up. But I am afraid that you’ll judge my work or output so I don’t launch. I delay and then I have productivity guilt. I heard recently that Dolly Parton distinguishes between perfectionism and professionalism. The idea being you maximize to a standard but you don’t let perfect get in the way of good. 

– Another unhelp is the Comparison game. When you are comparing your insides to their outsides. Trust me you have no idea what others are thinking unless they tell you. And then you feel productivity guilt


Why does this happen?  

We are taught to work hard and then we will get rewards. There’s rarely talk about the rewards that come from rest, just the rewards that come from work. 


What to do about it

Sometimes we need a time out. We need to not do anything. You know your body requires rest. We know that we are most creative when we have time and space, which also may look like rest. And I know that my best thinking and writing comes when the warm weather hits. I can sit at the beach for an hour or two doing nothing. Flipping through a magazine, or a light beach read. Glazing out on the water. Then WHAM, and then I am like a writing machine. I can’t write fast enough. It just flows. 

Every brain is different and there isn’t a productivity and mindset hack that will work for everyone. Reading all the books to get the tips may not work for you. And often you feel bad because you read the book but you didn’t take any action. We rely on tips and productivity hacks thinking this thing will work for us. We fixate on the thing that will help us change 

Some have routines. Some don’t. Here’s what I suggest. What works for another may not work for you. 

Take notice. Make notes. 

Here are a few ways to think about getting work done: 

1. I have found if I just had my own version of a hackathon, I am going to plan a rest. I may move an appointment and take a light or low-key day. 

2. I know if something is hanging over my head, I have to decided if I am going to put it off or schedule it. Scheduling it has always worked for me. I don’t really have a detailed to-do list. The item listed in my calendar as an “appointment” I schedule it ahead of time which gives me the freedom to enjoy today knowing that I made room for the work. 

3. Often when we are in delay or unmotivated it’s because we are thinking about a future that is worse than where we are today. Envisioning a future that is better, or how you’ll feel when you’re done is probably the fastest way to motivate yourself. The fun of the dopamine rewards cycle we get a little hit of dopamine when we complete a task or cross something off our list. There is the sense of accomplishment.

4. We are all different. Don’t aspire to what’s detrimental for you just because you read it in a book. This is where working with a coach is really helpful because you can see through the thoughts and reshape the actions. 


Ok, folks, let me know how you are working through productivity guilt. And feel free to share tips.   

Before I go, who’s helping you build a successful career? Do you have a  plan? 

I’d be honored to help you. Check out the details in the show notes where you can schedule an appointment to see if my private or group coaching is right for you. 

Alright, my friends. I appreciate you. Thanks for joining me this week. Until next time.