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  • Katie Waits

Fighting the Guilt of not being constantly productive

Just over a month ago, I found myself struggling under the immense pressure of trying to finish my final year essays at university to a standard that my perfectionism would accept. It came with late nights, days spent sifting through complicated academic sources, and don’t even get me started on referencing.

Long story short, I desperately needed a break. I’m sure we’ve all felt this way at some point, when the repetition of academia and essay writing gets too much. Having time to relax, however, when the deadlines were so close seemed absolutely ridiculous. What a waste of time it would be! I could be using that day off to get a load of research done, or finish an essay plan! The guilt that came from the mere idea of having a day where I wasn’t being very productive was extreme.

With essays due in two weeks, I ultimately decided to have a couple of days where I didn’t look at, or think about my work. This proved incredibly difficult. When I went on social media, I would be greeted with pictures of academic books piled high next to a cup of coffee and a laptop, or sometimes there would be screenshots of the final Turnitin page as somebody submitted yet another essay. In normal situations, if I hadn’t overworked myself, I would appreciate these pictures. Yet, when trying to have a break, all these images created was an overwhelming wave of guilt. Those other people are working, they haven’t taken a break, so why are you?!

Ultimately, I am so glad that I did take some time off. I can’t emphasise enough how useful it was for me, and I realise now, in hindsight, that there are ways to minimise the guilt that often comes with not being constantly productive.

Step away from social media.

It is far too easy for social media to make you feel like you’re being lazy, or productive. Plus, with the rise of influencers who proudly display their success, you can sometimes feel like you’re somehow falling behind. As lovely as it is to see other people doing well, it can often result in making unhealthy comparisons. During my break, when I realised that social media was making me feel terrible, I cut down my time on Instagram and Twitter so that I didn’t convince myself that I wasn’t doing enough compared to my peers.

Talk to a friend.

Although this may seem like I am contradicting myself, I found comfort in speaking to someone, even for a brief period of time. Talking to a friend showed me that they were also feeling stressed and overwhelmed and that I wasn’t alone in needing to have a break. You may even appreciate scheduling your breaks with a friend, so that you can relax and distract yourselves together.

Put your work away.

We’ve all heard of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind”, right? Well, if you’re anything like me, you may initially think that this idea is a little pointless. Worrying and guilt doesn’t just stop because you can’t see the problem. Despite this, I did find that when my laptop was away or if I put my notes somewhere else, there was less of an opportunity for me to look at them and feel bad about not working. When they weren’t staring me in the face, I could relax a little bit more.

Go for a walk. Read a book. Get some fresh air.

If you’ve been working for hours but you feel guilty for needing time to relax, do something to get away from whatever you’ve been working on. It may distract you from feeling too guilty about not being productive academically, especially if you’re being productive in another way that will make you feel refreshed.

Relaxing and taking time for yourself by not being ‘unproductive’ can prove more productive in the long run. Giving yourself some time to step away and clear your head, after you’ve been working hard, definitely helps. Remind yourself that you deserve to have a break when you need it. I find that after a break I was able to work better and was more inspired, compared to when I refused to relax. Not being constantly productive can be the most productive thing you can do, in normal times and during a pandemic.

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