Ever felt like you’re working 24/7 and achieving nothing? Have people congratulating you on your recent successes but you feel like they’re lying to you, or that you’ve cheated your way there? Maybe nothing feels like a big enough achievement, so your career isn’t fulfilling you at all despite the fact that you’re working yourself into the grave.
Last year, the journalist Anna Codrea-Rado explored the term ‘productivity dysmorphia’ (which had been coined in a tweet by Ben Uyeda). Like body dysmorphia, productivity dysmorphia is grounded in the idea that you are not in-sync with the reality of the situation; you feel like you are behind, not getting anything done, a failure – whereas in reality you’re actually working so hard that you’re anxiety levels are through the roof.
We have been there. In an article for Refinery29, Codrea-Rado explains that this dysmorphia “sits at the intersection of burnout, imposter syndrome and anxiety”. The issue seems to be that our bodies and brains are very good at adjusting: just like your body will adjust to a diet and cease to lose weight, our brains get used to a level of productivity meaning you quickly cease to be suitably impressed by your achievements. This is called hedonic adaption.
Women, people of colour, and neurodivergent folks are more likely to experience this phenomenon than others, and are likely to have absorbed messages from society telling them that they need to work harder to get ahead.
We want to make one thing clear, this article isn’t about how to be more productive. It’s about how to get rid of those persistent little voices in your head telling you you’re not being productive enough. So, what do you do once you’ve worked out you’re struggling?
If your brain is determined to tell you that you’re not achieving anything – prove it wrong. Keep a to-do list of both short- and long-term goals and tick things off as you go along. This will also help you to feel structured and controlled, and less like your career goals are a horrible soup you’re drowning in. Try keeping your timescales reasonable when setting these to-dos: you are not going to get your novella published within a week, but you could sort out your emails.
Keep notes of positive feedback you get and read some of them out to yourself each day. Imagine if your fabulous best friend told you that they are lazy, unproductive, and going nowhere – you’d have something to say about it! Treat yourself with that same passion – take time each day to praise yourself and stay grounded in your talents.
Prioritise and De-Clutter
One reason you might feel like you’re never achieving enough may be that you’re trying to achieve everything all at once. Chastising yourself that you’re never going to write a book, while also stressing out about applying to art school, training to become a first-aider, and start a podcast? Try picking one priority. What do you really want to achieve? Our article on this might help. Once you’ve taken a long look at what you really want to do with your life and career, you can start whittling down the list of stuff you “need” to do.
Ground Yourself Elsewhere
The pandemic shut us off from our social lives and leisure activities, and for two years our careers became our priorities and only distractions. It’s no wonder that we’re finding it hard to disassociate our value from our productivity. Make sure you’re finding time to spend with friends, travel, be in nature, pick up a sport or hobby – remind yourself that you weren’t born to work. Let’s dismantle hustle culture together!
Break It Down
Why do you feel the need to be productive at all times? What does “productive” mean for you? Is this healthy? Were there messages taught to you by your parents about productivity that you could let go of? There’s going to be some uncomfortable questions you need to ask yourself during this mental-reshuffle.
Find Your Groove
Following a schedule can be helpful for regaining a sense of control in your life. Waking up and going to bed at the same time each day and making sure you make specific time for rest and relaxation, will do your mind and body wonders. Find something sacred to you – something that you do each day which makes you feel like “yup, I’ve got my sh*t together”. This might be putting your jewellery on in the mirror each morning, or buying a cup of coffee from your favourite cafe. By doing this small thing (or things) each day, you make every day into a good day regardless of whether your email inbox is at 0 when you clock off.
Author: Verity Babbs