The pressure to be constantly productive and how I deal with it

Always striving for success, Craig reflects on his experiences of burnout.

Written by Craig Doyle


The concept of being productive can be a daunting one for a lot of people. For many, they try to define productivity under one individual aspect. In reality being productive cannot be limited to a specific set of actions. This is an aspect of productivity that I have personally struggled with. In my head I have this pre-conceived notion of what it means to be productive, which can often lead to rather harsh self-destructive tendencies. 

I have linked being studious, and being behind the books with being productive. Internally, I have set extremely high expectations of myself in relation to exams and school-work. I have to score highly, I have to be top of the class, I have to do well. In order to do this, I feel pressure to be constantly productive, in order to meet these expectations I have set for myself. 

Comparing yourself with other people can be a harmful and damaging issue. Much of the same can be said with comparing yourself to past-versions of yourself. The idea that you need to constantly one-up yourself, and constantly be better, can subsequently lead to the unwelcome feelings of disappointment and despair if you fail to do so. 

This disappointment associated with failing to better your younger self, ultimately ignores the different circumstances you’re in now and the increasing difficulty of the curriculum and other challenges as you age. Whilst I’m aware of these oversights, and know that the landscape is vastly different for me now compared to my younger self, this feeling of disappointment and failure still wins.

Constant pressure

In order to try prevent these feelings from occurring, I try my best and put in the hours of study and school work I feel are needed. However, my desire to keep disappointment and failure as far away from me as possible can lead to overworking myself and ultimately to burnout

Whenever I’m burnt out, the quality of my work significantly drops, yet, I try to work through it, which has little to no benefits at all. I don’t retain the information, I don’t make the best value of my time, and my patience wears thin. In the times where I take an unscheduled break to combat this, I feel like I’m just sitting around, wasting time, not doing enough. 

This leads to me going back to work and it remains poor in quality. This cycle repeats constantly and oftentimes it feels like I’m just stuck in this unbearable loop just wondering when and how it’s going to end.

Redefining productivity

Recently, I’ve been trying to do better to change my thinking in regards to productivity and these next steps have been rather helpful in my doing so.

As I mentioned previously productivity isn’t, and shouldn’t be, limited to a set number of things. It’s a term that encompasses so much more than schoolwork and being studious. Productivity can be as simple as cleaning your room, walking the dog, painting, working on a personal project, and this list goes on. Realising this, truly understanding that productivity is so much more than the notion I had built in my head, has been incredibly helpful. Now, I’ve been able to feel productive doing things other than simply school-related activities, I don’t feel that I’m wasting my time to the same degree as I did before.

Being okay with not being productive – I realise that I’ve just mentioned that being productive is a broad term and there are many things that we do that are considered to be productive. With that being said, we can’t always be productive all of the time, and it is okay to not be. Our body and mind needs downtime, they need a chance to relax from the busy nature of our lives.

Whilst it may feel like this downtime could be used more effectively, in my opinion, we need this downtime in order to work efficiently and to the best of our ability and ultimately to avoid the cycle of burnout that we can all fall into. Taking a break does not equate to being lazy, it equates to being aware of yourself and your wellbeing and taking measures in order to protect it. For me, I’ve found that simple guided meditations on youtube have helped me to relax and unwind after any stressful period of time.

Having compassion for yourself during this process is so important. Struggling with self-comparison is difficult, and feeling the pressure of having to constantly be productive isn’t easy. I find that we’re very quick to be dismissive of our own issues and downplay the effect that they may be having on us. We often try to put up a facade to hide behind. Once you acknowledge to yourself that this pressure is real and valid, it becomes a lot easier to deal with it.

Dealing with pressure daily

The pressure of feeling the need to be constantly productive isn’t one that simply goes away. Just when you feel like you have overcome the issue, it has a tendency to creep its way back into our brains. It may be impossible to entirely eliminate this stress, yet, I find that there are many things that we can do to deal with it and have it  be less of a pervasive factor in our lives.

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