Guilt and Productivity
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Rachel’s recent blog on practical steps toward consistent productivity set my mind whirling about how I could be more productive. Then, later that day, I found myself engaged in a number of conversations with people who confessed the substantial guilt they felt over not being productive enough. That set my mind to thinking more deeply about productivity.
Does guilt make us more productive or less productive?
I have a dear friend who is a master procrastinator. Self-discipline seldom moves him to action, but guilt–either self-applied or applied by others–causes him to stop goofing off and produce. Others are immobilized by guilt, unable to move forward because the guilt is too weighty…Now that I think about it, even Mr. Procrastinator is weighed down by guilt. I’m sure he thinks about what he hasn’t done all the time, and that can’t feel good.
I’m immobilized by guilt. And it’s not just guilt over a task, it’s also guilt over taking time off from work when my to-do list isn’t complete. My mother, a time management maestro, taught me many good techniques to be productive. But she set the guideline that I couldn’t play until I completed my “work,” whether that was housework or homework. Unfortunately, my sweet mother never foresaw that I would have a career in which my work is never done.
Pretty much everyone involved in publishing has an infinite task list, writers included. You can edit your manuscript one more time; read another book on the writing craft; read other books in your genre; spend more time marketing; or try something new in social media.
In an effort to shake off this burden of guilt, I’ve come up with some ideas I want to try. Maybe some of them will help you as well.
- Create a guilt hour. I read about this idea here. If I spend one hour per week choosing from my task list the item I feel most guilty about and then concentrate that hour on attacking that task, I’m bound to feel less guilty. Since I work with four other agents, I can report to them in our weekly staff meeting what my guilty task will be and then set out to accomplish it as soon as the staff meeting ends. If I schedule it and if I ask others to hold me accountable, I’m more likely to succeed.
- Don’t start the day with email. Emails kill me, just kill me. I have lots of work waiting for me in my emails everyday, and I spend most of everyday doing only email. It’s very hard to move past it to other tasks. But, at the end of the day, the untended to tasks are staring at me, asking how I could have ignored them. If I devote the first two, freshest hours of my day–okay, one hour is probably all I can force myself to commit to–to tasks dripping in guilt, my email will still be waiting for me, right? And when I turn to the email, I’ll feel good about having moved an important job closer to completion.
- Don’t make guilt piles. These could be physical stacks of books you really want to read but never get to. Or stacks of DVDs you want to watch. Or stacks of work. Choose two items from the stack and put the rest out of sight. You’ll feel better immediately.
- Use the Rule of Three. Aim for three successes per day. For me, that would mean, start my day not opening my email–success #1. If I can concentrate on a task for one hour first thing in the morning, that’s success #2. I need only one more success to be able to say I had a good day–and it’s not even noon yet!
- Break tasks into smaller pieces. If painting your office is on your guilt list, change the list. Write down, “Select paint color.” Then “Find paint equipment.” Then “Schedule day to prep office.”
- Stop berating yourself. One individual, who confessed to me she had failed to accomplish a job she had committed to months ago, offered to jump off a bridge. Talk about feeling guilt! My response: “Huh?” While I was aware she hadn’t completed the assignment, I didn’t see it as worth suffering anguish over. Come on, people, if you’re working as smart as you know how, ease up on the self-accusations, okay?
What do you feel guilty about? Share with us what plan you want to institute to move past guilt and on to productivity–or to feeling better about yourself.
Does guilt make you more productive at work? Click to tweet.
Six steps to end guilt over work productivity. Click to tweet.