Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Productivity Guilt – I Should Be More Productive, But I’m Not, And I Feel Guilty.

Productivity Guilt – I Should Be More Productive, But I’m Not, And I Feel Guilty.

No matter how much pressure you feel at work,
if you could find ways to relax for at least five minutes every hour,
you’d be more productive.

~Dr. Joyce Brothers

We live in a competitive world. Stressful pressure comes at us from all directions to be “productive” every waking moment of every day, even on vacation! We want to chill, we want to relax, but there’s a nagging voice in our heads that keeps telling us we should be doing more, we should be doing better, we should be……..perfect.

We should finish that project, get started on the next one, impress the boss, do it better than someone else. We should also exercise, eat healthy, clean the apartment, do the laundry, answer emails and texts instantly, read a book, and RELAX. Even relaxing becomes a thing we’re supposed to be doing, but we really don’t even find the time, and relaxing becomes yet one more thing added to the to-do list.

You can’t do it all, perfectly. It’s unrealistic to think so, and worse to even try to. For openers, perfect does not exist. It’s not bad to have goals, to be ambitious, to want to achieve. But the result of being unrealistic about what’s achievable is guilt. Guilt that says “you’re not doing enough.” Productivity guilt. You see friends and colleagues doing more or better. At least you think they are. You beat yourself up, relentlessly. And the result of that? If you guessed that you become less productive, you’re right.

This is what’s called productivity guilt. There’s a phenomenon called “the Zeigarnik effect,” named after a woman who identified it more than 100 years ago. In short, it’s a tendency to beat yourself up over tasks you didn’t finish, or finish to perfection. It’s normal to want to finish something we start out to do, and feel good about it when we do. Part of this phenomenon shows that people dwell longer on the things they didn’t finish than on the things they did. Look it up: there are some cool things she discovered when she delved deeper and made a study of what happens in these situations.

But life has a way of interfering sometimes, so it doesn’t always come out that way you want it to. And then you feel bad about yourself. Maybe you call yourself lazy, or incompetent, or you didn’t try hard enough, or you wasted too much time checking your phone. The self-loathing that can develop from that drives you into a debilitating spiral, leaving you less and less truly productive.

You promise yourself that next time you’ll do better. Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. But whenever you don’t and you beat yourself up (again), you waste precious energy that could be better spent on – guess what….relaxing! Enjoying yourself. Doing something pleasurable. Even, believe it or not, doing NOTHING. It’s unhealthy to be on a hamster wheel and never getting off. The brain needs to be given a rest. It recharges, and then when you return to work, you’re actually more productive than if you never take a break.

What can you do to break this bad habit? Several things come to mind.

A few more pieces of advice that will help you be more productive, and able to get more of what you want out of life.

In reading up for this post I came across statistics that may blow your mind. Study after study show the same things. Here are a few: 90% of employers encourage breaks. 55% of employees feel they can’t leave their desks, though 86% of them acknowledge it would be a good idea. (Study done by Staples.) The top 10% most productive employees take 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work. 62% of workers think their colleagues are doing better than they are. (Study by Desk Time)

47% of workers feel shame or guilt at work for taking time off, and feel the need to justify taking a vacation to their employer, even if entitled to it. (Alamo Rent-a-Car study, who named this “vacation shaming.”) 28% don’t take advantage of paid time off because they’re afraid it won’t look good.

In a study by Harvard Business School, groups divided into those working straight through and those given 15 minute breaks, those taking the breaks performed 22.8% better than those who didn’t.

I could go on and on. You’d find the same thing if you dug around for it. BUT. Please don’t do that. Instead, spend the time on something relaxing, pleasurable and fun. Whatever that really is for you. It’s ok not to always be productive.  Really.

The mind should be allowed some relaxation,
that it may return to its work all the better for its rest.


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