3 Ways to Stop Making Your Productivity a Measure of Self-Worth

I told myself just one more task off my list, and I would feel better. If I just pulled off this big project or launched this organization or cleared out my inbox or knocked out a reading assignment -- I would feel better about myself. Regardless of importance of each item on my list, I became intoxicated by productivity in even the most menial, often self-assigned tasks on my agenda.  

What is often rooted in positive characteristics like discipline and a strong work ethic can quickly spiral into your self-worth if you do not take a step back or relinquish the grip of your need for productivity. Productivity fiends, like myself, often parade as extremely busy and full of things to do. While this is usually true, I know of many occasions where I create work for myself where none exists or lock myself in for the night to get ahead rather than hanging out with friends.

In my final semester of college, I have tried to be easier on myself and indulge a bit where in the past I would have been pinned to my desk. This means I am creating the necessary distance between myself and everything that falls into the ‘work’ category. Because in all honesty, this always-on mentality is more robotic than realistic. And if this is a lesson I finally grasp now, as I am preparing to flee with my degree, then better to have learned it while the tuition bills are still coming.

[Disclaimer: Truthfully, being easier on myself is still a bit convoluted as a recovering perfectionist who cares too much about everything, but I am trying.]

For myself and my fellow productivity chasers, this is how you can unravel your self-worth from your stacked agenda.

1. Don't punish yourself. 

Listen to your body and mind. Gauge your energy levels. Don’t force yourself to keep going when you know you need to stop. This is applicable to all classwork and related exertions. Sometimes, I would get so absorbed in finishing an assignment that I would not get up until it was done. It’s pretty insane to fatigue oneself, sideline bathroom breaks and proper nutrition in exchange for finishing a paper and checking it off a list. 

To curb this militaristic and counterproductive approach to completing work, I began allowing myself the necessary breaks I need to refocus. This can include any of the following: grabbing a snack, talking to your roommates, getting fresh air or some light exercise. If at the end of the day I still have things I need to do, I simply set it aside to regroup. 

2. Don't mask other issues with constant busyness.

Circling back to my issues with perfectionism, I often quelled my softer emotions from consciousness by overburdening myself with tasks. Getting things done made me feel really alive and energetic, and when others gave me a chance to step in and pick up the slack, I felt a power rush. But this power trip is temporary and when it fades I am left with addressing any emotions I have ignored or suppressed. It’s important to recognize, no matter how much you do or how hard you work, it’s not enough to make you not feel human. You have many emotions and complexities, and you are not defined by your productivity alone.

Personally, I like to stay busy all the time. However, I will admit that if I lose my sense of perspective through masking my limits, it becomes a habit to forfeit my health in exchange for getting things done. Re-frame how you approach your well-being. If you really cannot detach from the idea of a list, then make yourself the top priority on your checklist. I am a complete hypocrite, but progress is happening. 

3. Take the focus off of work and create a separation for yourself.

I want to revisit the human and machine comparison. Instead of covering up your humanity with machine-like completion, focus on what gratifies your soul or what you enjoy doing. And if that’s not enough, don’t ignore signs that you should seek extra guidance. We live in a society that brags about not getting enough sleep and drinking too much coffee, but the discussion is changing so that there is more respect for taking care of one’s mental and emotional health. Make yourself a priority and never push past your limits. Your productivity levels are not a measure of self-worth. 

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