The Pressure of being Productive

I feel like I always have to be productive. It is a pressure I put on myself. For me, being productive involves working towards things that I want to achieve. If I am not working towards my dreams, then I am not being productive. I feel guilty if I believe that I haven’t been productive. I think that I have completely wasted the day, week, month…or however long I have not been ‘productive’ for. I tell myself that I MUST do better. That the next day, or the next week, I MUST be productive.

But this version of productivity that I have in my mind is simply that. It is my version. I have set the rules around what being productive means to me and the criteria of whether I have or have not achieved it. But I am starting to think that I need to rethink my version of productivity.

I have to be actively working on something that I want to achieve for me to feel productive. A large part of this is probably linked with my eating disorder. For so long, when I was in the grips of anorexia and wanted to lose weight, I felt I had to be working towards that all of the time. Back then, my version of productivity was doing anything that would help me lose weight. Then, when I was at university, I felt that I had to study all of the time in order to be productive. If I didn’t study for a minimum of eight hours a day, I believed that I had not been productive. I could not even allow myself a day off on Christmas day.

Being Productive – Is it All or Nothing?

I have a tendency to be very ‘all or nothing’ in my thinking. Well, I say I have a tendency, but it is not a tendency. It is more of a rigid thought process that is NEVER broken. So in my eyes, if I am not doing what I believe I need to do in order to be productive and giving it ‘my all’, then I have completely wasted all of my time, everything is awful and I will never achieve what I hope for. I think this feeling is exaggerated because of the years I believe that I have lost through anorexia and being in hospital.

I first went into hospital when I was 19. From that point, I spent virtually 90% of my life in hospital until my last admission which ended when I was nearly 23. Four years gone. And even once I was able to maintain in the community, I still wasn’t really living. I was still very much controlled by anorexia. I wasn’t relapsing, but I still wasn’t able to focus on, and do the things that I really wanted to. Many more years lost. So now time feels more precious. It feels more important to me that I do not waste any more time. I have to work towards my dreams. Therefore, I always have to be productive and I find it really hard to allow myself time when I’m not ‘working’. But at what sacrifice?

Sacrifice 1: Family

For so long I have put my family second best to my productive ‘work’. I say that I haven’t got time to do things with them, to spend time with them…I can’t afford to spend my time not being productive. But recently I have started to reconsider this and act against this thought that my productive ‘work’ is more important than anything else. In 10 years time, am I more likely to regret not spending more time being productive, or not taking those moments and opportunities to spend time with loved ones. I know the answer is the latter.

Therefore, recently I have made an effort to spend more time and do more things with my family. I have tried to stop always putting my ‘productivity’ above them. I will often suggest playing a board game with my mum even though my head is telling me that I should be ‘working.’ I will spend time with them during the day, despite feeling guilty and anxious for not spending my time being ‘productive’ . And do you know what I have realised? That actually there is nothing more productive than spending time with those you love. I am re-evaluating my version of what being productive means. And it no longer means having to ‘work’ all the time towards my own self imposed rules.

Sacrifice 2: Friends

It is a similar experience with my friends. Whilst I wouldn’t ever turn down the opportunity to meet up with friends because I fear it will interrupt my positivity, I do feel incredibly guilty when time spent with a friend means I spend an entire day not being productive. I love spending time with my friends and they are very important to me. But that doesn’t stop my head feeling like the day is wasted if seeing friends means I haven’t been productive. However, with my version of ‘productivity’ recently being challenged, I know that a day spent with friends is not a wasted or unproductive day. It is the type of day that I had dreamt of for years. A day that makes me happy, and is one of the most productive type of days possible.

Sacrifice 3: Hobbies, interests, & relaxation

Unlike my change in attitude and behaviour to my ‘productivity’ in relation to my family and friends, allowing myself time do things that I enjoy is something that is still sacrificed for productivity. Sometimes I think how nice it would be just to sit in the garden, or watch the TV during the day, or spend time doing hobbies. I love cooking and baking and many years ago I would spend a lot of time doing this. But now my time is too precious, or so my ‘productive’ head thinks. I can’t possibly spend a couple of hours baking a cake when I could be spending that time working towards my dreams and being productive.

Do we have to make sacrifices for being productive?

That’s not to say that I don’t think it is important to have hopes and dreams and work towards them, because I do. And having disciple, determination and putting in hard work is important. But not to sacrifice of everything and everyone else. Not to the point where it is completely all or nothing and you can’t cope with the guilt of not being ‘productive’ all of the time. Where it is an unhealthy obsession.

The concept of being busy, working all the time, and needing to always be productive is instilled in so many of us. But by focussing on this ALL of the time, it means we miss out on so many ‘pleasures’ in life. Yes, you can have hopes and dreams and dedicate your time to working towards achieving them. But you can still be allowed some pleasure, some spare time along the way. Is the odd hour here and there away from your ‘work’ really going to make that much difference to your ‘productivity’?

I haven’t been able to master this yet. As I said earlier, I have slowly changed what being productive means to me in terms of family and friends. But productivity still comes first to everything else. And these are my own, self-inflicted rules. No one is making me do it other than me. But our own rules are often the hardest to break. I have to realise that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If I don’t spend every possible opportunity trying to be productive, it doesn’t have to mean that the time is completely wasted and that I will never achieve anything I hope for. There is middle ground. I am yet to find it, but I do believe it is there.

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Bex Quinlan blog about being productive
The Pressure of being Productive. By Bex Quinlan

4 thoughts on “The Pressure of being Productive”

  1. A very eloquent account of something many of us with enduring eating disorders face but rarely gets discussed. Thank you for sharing the way it impacts on you. The all or nothing thinking can feel obvious yet too subtle all at once. Losing out on time that now makes you feel you have to live each moment with gusto is very understandable,definitely relatable, but maybe there is an alternate way to approach it. For if you go all in, yes you may be ‘productive’ in terms of utilising that time but you may actually be less focused, less receptive, less aware that you are chasing a dream which is meant to be enriching not punitive. Powering through time, going ‘all in’ reduces your ability to capture that time, the precious moments you fought and continue to fight so strongly to reach. To rest, to engage in pleasures, to pause – the anorexia sees those as meaningless but in truth, life is built on those moments. Balancing the hurry with the reflection means time can be meaningful, your health can be stronger which allows more time. As anorexia makes you believe you can’t succeed anywhere but in its arms, that sudden freedom to fill time can be very overwhelming. Coupled with the fear if you stop you’ll ‘feel’ or ‘think’ or feel lost, things anorexia makes you fear you won’t be able to endure. But anorexia won’t tell you that you are capable of doing all the things your dreams require, that you are allowed to feel, to think and to be supported in order to cope, you just don’t need to do it all at once.

    1. Thank you so much for your incredibly insightful comment. It makes so much sense what you say about not capturing the moments and how anorexia makes you feel like resting, pleasure, and pausing is wasted time. I very much relate to this. I definitely think approaching productivity with this alternative mindset that you suggest is a great way to look at it and hopefully I, and others, will be able to try and put it into practice.

  2. I have the same productivity issue. Especially when it comes to exercise. The compulsion is so difficult to challenge/overcome. Even while camping with my family, I made a plan to get up early and go for a long bike ride on my own to meet my disorder’s productivity standard. When my family decided they wanted to join in, I was quite irritated, knowing I would have to shorten the ride and go slower, making it much less ‘productive’. Had to force myself to step back and look at the big picture. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Makes this difficult journey less lonely. ❤️

    1. I am sorry to hear that you also struggle with the same issue. I can totally relate to what you say about the exercise. I have done exactly the same in the past – getting up early to do my exercise and, if I’ve had to exercise with my family, I’ve nearly always got frustrated and anxious that the exercise has been slower. Like you say, it is important to step back and look at the bigger picture. I try and ask myself whether I’m more likely to regret not completing my exercise exactly as I feel it should, or missing the time with family and making the time spent with them stressful. And the answer is always that my family are more important than any exercise, so I try and keep reminding myself of that. It isn’t easy I know. But the more we do it, the easier it should get. xxx

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