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You don’t always have to be productive

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly spinning your wheels, chasing your next big startup idea, entrepreneurial venture, or otherwise? Do you find it hard to relax, and have a dauntless drive to be busy?

Do you feel extremely guilty for not being as productive as you could be?

If this sounds like you, I want you to listen to me: you may have a problem, and I definitely have a solution.

The Problem: Being Constantly Busy Isn’t Healthy

There’s reason to believe that workaholism is just another flavor of addiction

You don't always have to be productive

It’s one thing to have a large workload or take pride in your job. It’s another thing entirely to feel a constant, unyielding need to work yourself into the ground. This behavioral health study by Mark Griffiths examines how workaholism can, indeed, be a form of addiction. Consider the below traits, in relation to your need to be constantly productive.

Do any of these hit the mark for you?

  • Salience: This occurs when work becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life.
  • Mood modification: This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of working (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).
  • Tolerance: This is the process whereby increasing amounts of work are required to achieve the former effects. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms: These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., restlessness, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when the person is unable to work because they are ill, on holiday, etc.
  • Conflict: This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies, and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time working.
  • Relapse: This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive work to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical of the height of excessive working to be restored after periods of control.

If you’re seeing yourself in any of these points, know that you’re not alone:

Nearly half of employed Americans (48 percent) consider themselves modern-day “workaholics,” according to new research


However, know now—just as you know I’ve written this article to truly help you—that this behavior does not lead to your best work. The science is on my side, here.

Furthermore, workaholism can easily bring burnout, puts a strain on your personal life, and leads to health complications.

Keep in mind that we’re not talking about being driven, goal oriented, or excited about your career.

You don't always have to be productive

We’re also not talking about needing to work hard to put food on the table during a pandemic.

We’re talking about being addicted to productivity—to The Hustle—to the point of detriment to your well-being.

We’re talking about shameful guilt where not hitting your goals as fast as possible is concerned—something entrepreneurs often feel.

It doesn’t make your work better, and being addicted to work and productivity certainly won’t help you reach your goals faster, especially if you’re burning out.

The time is now to make a change, improve your relationship with work and productivity, and lead yourself to greater returns and greater health.

Solution #1: Be your own best friend

Reframe your stress and be kind to yourself

You don't always have to be productive

Imagine, if you will, that one of your buddies rolled on into your text messages/Slack/IG/Discord DMs and told you about how crayzeee their schedule was. Now, make it real, by venting to yourself.

Outline all the bullshit on your plate as though you’re somebody else. Make a list, start a fake chat, record your voice—it doesn’t matter how you do it, but just vent.

Next, process the vent with the intent of giving your buddy some advice. This isn’t for “you”, this is for “your buddy”.

Are you noticing that some of the crayzeee things “your budy” is working on/doing/stressing about are, well, not very urgent?

What would your advice be for your very stressed, very overly-productive workaholic buddy?

It’d probably be to tell them to list out all the things they have to do that are urgent, and do them.

Then, anything that is not urgent nor important, delegate, plan, or delete. Proper time management skills kick productivity-addiction in the keister.

Making your work tasks more manageable can help alleviate the stress and adrenaline that fuels inefficient productivity self-flagellation.

The reason the “be your own best friend thing” works is simple:

You wouldn’t guilt your best friend into working themselves into the ground at the expense of their physical and mental health, right? Then you shouldn’t do this to yourself.

We’re our own worst critics, aren’t we?

When we reframe our stress outside of ourselves, we allow ourselves to be kinder and less critical. We give ourselves permission to ease up on the reigns a bit, and lessen the pressure.

Solution #2: Give yourself permission to take a well-deserved break

Reward yourself for all your hard work!

You don't always have to be productive

If it’s still hard for you to put work down, give yourself milestones. For every set of tasks you do, give yourself a “payment” of 30 minutes to do absolutely-fucking-nothing.

Or, let yourself watch a fun anime show you’ve been meaning to watch, or play a cool mmorpg with your buddies for an hour.

Reward your hard work not only with monetary value, but with walks, snacks, some good old fashioned exercise, and maybe even a nap.

Keep in mind this quote from Eisenhower if you get stuck fretting over “all the things you have to do”:

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

If something was important, the Powers That Be wouldn’t (often) make it Urgent. Poor planning on their part is not (often) an emergency on yours—I truly believe this.

The reason “rewarding yourself with milestones” works is simple:

If you’re stuck in work processes, reframing your self care can help you fit it into your systems. It’s not being lazy or slacking; it’s you paying yourself for the work you’ve done. Or, it’s part of the project itself.

If you need a break, give yourself permission to take one .

Your mental, physical, and emotional well-being needs to be a priority for you to live a happy, healthy life, and breaks are a part of that.

Solution #3: Make a “Fuck Budget”

Protect your time and energy by learning to say “no”

Coined by Sarah Knight, the Fuck Budget Method (or: The Magic of Not Giving a Fuck) is an absolute game-changer. For things you do not care about, that will get your workaholism and guilt pumping, that you are under no real requirement to perform: ditch them.

You can choose to not give a fuck, be honest, be real, and still be polite. It isn’t impolite to say no, it’s impolite to demand a yes from someone who has already said no.

Whether this relates to work or your personal life, it’s time to start thinking about your energy in terms of what you can spend, and what you actually want to spend.

For example, say a client needs help on XYZ, and you’re not on contract for this, nor do you want to do it. You can quite simply say: “thanks, but no thanks” and refer the work elsewhere.

You could also possibly give them a future date where you may be interested in this work/free to work on this.

Or, you could just do what I do, and slap on “I Hate This” fees to the types of projects you despise until you price yourself out of crap you hate doing.

Full-time work makes this harder, but knowing what is Urgent, what is Important, and what you actually must do goes a long way.

For example, you do not have to volunteer to help Brenda convert a PDF to a Word Doc. You can choose to give her a link on how to do this herself and leave her to her own devices.

Brenda is an adult, she can figure it out.

Have faith in Brenda and stop enabling your coworkers to be lazy and, coincidentally, stress you out to the point of becoming a productivity-vampire.

The reason “making a budget for your fucks” works is simple:

You don't always have to be productive

When you reframe your energy, time, effort, and sanity in the artifice of “spending” you’ll be far less likely to carelessly spend your effort on things you don’t like, don’t want to, and don’t need to do.

External forces can be mitigated. You have this power.

In Closing: Why the fuck are you so goddamn busy?

Are you aiming for a goal, or are you just hurting yourself?

You don't always have to be productive

You may be wondering why I wrote this article. Let’s just I have a lot of friends that are pushing themselves very, very hard right now. I need them to know it’s okay to say no and protect their health and well-being.

Where being overly productive is concerned, I can’t really fix that for you, but what I can do is ask you to think about your relationship with work. I can give you an overview of how “productivity” is harmful when taken to the extreme.

I can give you tips on how to be gentle with yourself, how to structure breaks, analyze task importance, and how to budget your energy.

I can give you advice on how to free yourself from the guilt of always being helpful at your own detriment, productive to the point of sickness, doing crap you don’t want/have to do, and on how to stop enabling your lazy-ass coworkers.

It’s up to you if you think you have a problem and want to fix it. I can’t make that judgement call.

All I can do is give you the tools to get to someplace healthier.

Why not make being kind to yourself—emotionally, physically, and mentally—your next big project?

I promise you that it’ll be incredibly rewarding.

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