The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.24

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Photo by Kaysha on Unsplash

Do you have Productivity Guilt?

Do you suffer from “productivity guilt”? That feeling that you need to be productive every second of the day? In this article we look at how it happens, why this is Not A Good Thing (NAGT), and what you can do about it.

What is it?

There’s an incredible amount of information about productivity out there. Just Googling the word “productivity” brings up over a billion hits, and just a little bit of scrolling shows that most of the information out there is how to be more productive.

And of course productivity is A Good Thing (AGT). If we can focus on what’s important, and get it done, we make progress.

All this information, and the constant barrage of “10 ways to get more done” on social media platforms, can easily make us feel we’re not as productive as we should be.

Add to that the days that we don’t get the things done we should have, and a little nagging feeling of guilt starts showing up. We look at the super-high performers, what they accomplish, and that feeling of guilt gets just a little bit stronger.

And before you know it, you’re suffering from productivity guilt. Consciously or subconsciously, that guilt nags at us and makes us feel guilty, less worthy, and just a little bit like a failure.

Why is it Not A Good Thing (NAGT)?

Feeling guilty is a horrible thing. I’ve already listed some of the negative effects:

  • It makes us feel we’re not worthy.
  • We feel like a failure.

And it nags at us—consciously or subconsciously. And before you know it, it starts showing up in how we show up in the world.

We get short-tempered. We snap at people. We approach our work with a built-in feeling of guilt. Those feelings drive who we are, how we show up, and how we interact with others—and our work.

And this is definitely Not A Good Thing (NAGT - don’t you just love acronyms?).

Showing up in a way that negatively affects those around us inevitably blows back on ourselves.

That feeling of guilt is the seed for a vicious cycle. We snap at people. They snap back. We (and they) go on the defensive (or attack). And before you know it, you have a nuclear-size explosion from something we otherwise could have laughed off.

And it shows up in the quality of the work we do. When we build something with an underlying feeling of guilt, the quality of the product is just not as good as it would have been if we’d been working from a position of strength.

Guilt erodes your strength. When we feel weak, our work—and our relationships with others—suffer.

What you can do about it

There are three things you can do to reduce those feelings of guilt.

1. Accept that you’re human and not perfect

We all have good days and bad days. Life goes up and down, and some days we’re just not as strong—or productive—as other days.

So when you find yourself at the end of a day or week and you feel that you’ve not been as productive as you should have been, shrug your shoulders and say to yourself “ah, that was not a great day / week. Tomorrow / next week will be better.”

2. Don’t compare yourself to others

Just about every story you read on the Internet about how successful people get to be super-productive talks only about the things they did to get where they are. The stories gloss over the blood, sweat and tears that preceded this “perfect world” state. They gloss over just how long it took to get there.

Here’s what I know to be true:

No matter how good you are, there’s always someone out there who is better. Comparing yourself to them only leads to never-ending feelings of guilt. Rather, compare yourself to where you were a year ago.

This is the 49th issue of The Accomplished Solopreneur—this newsletter. It’s come out every week, faithfully, on a Saturday morning. On the face of it, it seems that I am super-productive—I must have wonderful self-discipline and super-high productivity to have done this, right?

The truth is a lot more gritty. I’m writing this issue on the day before it needs to go out. I struggle with what to write about. Quality is not always what it could have been. And I can get a lot better at things like cross-linking relevant articles.

I’ve also been doing this for five years. It’s not been easy, but is sure is a heck of a lot easier now than it was even a year ago.

3. Get better one day at a time

And of course you have to study and practice productivity techniques. You have to learn about time blocking, reducing interruptions, focus, mental clarity, and all the other good things that help you be more productive.

One day at a time—with some days going down rather than up—is the journey.


Feeling guilty when you’re not in top form is Not A Good Thing (NAGT). It saps your strength, affects how you show up in the world, and almost always ends up in a bad place.

But not even the best athletes in the world win every race. They don’t get faster every time. Some days are just down. But over a long period of time, practicing the right stuff gives you the results you’re looking for.

Rather than feeling guilty when you’re not as productive as you should be, focus on the joy of every day. You’re worth it.