A Psychotherapist Recommends 4 Strategies To Boost Your Productivity

Are you facing setbacks while trying to be productive? Try these four techniques to boost productivity wisely.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | January 20, 2023

Many people come to therapy after having been pulled down by the constant need to create or achieve something productive or work hard to achieve their goal. The inability to achieve goals leads to disappointment and, thus, feelings of guilt. They may say things like:

  • "I am not able to wake up early. I feel like I am missing out on the most productive hours of the day."
  • "I know I waste entirely too much time watching television. But I can't seem to help it."
  • "Whenever I need to get something done, I get an almost irresistible urge to do something else instead of what I should be doing. What is wrong with me?"

The feeling of persistent disappointment that rings in our ears is commonly referred to as productivity guilt.

Productivity guilt is a mindset that makes a person feel bad about themselves for not working hard enough and for not being able to achieve 100% of their goals, especially career goals, every day.

This guilt often leads to intrusive thoughts. You may feel like you are not good enough or that you are inadequate. This may cause you to be overwhelmed by the task at hand and lead to a type of 'cognitive paralysis' where you end up doing nothing at all.

Here, I'll talk about four ways to manage productivity guilt.

#1. Set realistic expectations for the day

The first step towards managing productivity guilt is to organize and break down your tasks in order of priority. To help prioritize, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the tasks that are absolutely necessary to be finished by the end of today?
  • What are some of the tasks that can be shifted to tomorrow?
  • Alternatively, ask yourself if there are tasks that can be worked upon over the course of a week and can be set as a weekly goal.

Setting weekly goals can reduce productivity pressures that are associated with excessive anxiety, sleep disorders, stress, and even depression. It is important to know that our energy, focus, and attention span is not unlimited. Adequate breaks are important to ensure efficiency.

According to research, taking even short breaks from your work desk and unplugging completely has a significant positive impact on productivity upon returning to work.

#2. Try out "behavioral experiments"

Behavioral experiments are practices in which people plan to try new things, make mistakes, and do things imperfectly. While this may give you anxiety (especially if you are perfectionistic by nature), when people actually engage in these experiments, they are often amazed to see that the sky didn't fall and that striving towards realistic goals with room for faltering is more liberating than they imagined.

#3. Understand the difference between being busy and being productive

There's a difference between busy-ness and productivity. Busy-ness is when our day is filled with tasks. Productivity is the state of doing something that helps us inch closer to our goals.

According to an article published in the American Psychological Association, busy-ness that comprises juggling more than one task (i.e., multitasking) can take a toll our our productivity. It can lead to burnout and re-work that ultimately slows down our progress.

Therefore, instead of having a mindset like "I need to clean every bathroom, bedroom, and closet in my home today," try reframing this into: "I'm going to declutter my space by chalking out a plan to organize things in my closet according to their categories and I'll save the bathrooms for another day."

#4. Celebrate small wins and achievements

Champion yourself. Remember that not every day is going to be your most productive day ever. Sometimes, taking a day or two break or going on a week-long vacation can boost your productivity over the long run.

Celebrate all of your forward movement, no matter how small it seems. Remember Bill Gates' famous insight: "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years."

When we celebrate our small wins, positive emotions take over and enhance our motivation to get to the finish line.