Should You Feel Guilty for Not Working Enough?

How to know if you’re right about your productivity?

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Do you ever get this feeling that you’re not doing enough, that you should work more? When do you feel that way, is it justified? Are you concerned you’re not moving fast enough but at least getting results, or do you know deep down that you definitely need to work more?

Or maybe you feel the opposite? Do you feel like you work too much, that you need a break? And again, are you lying to yourself or are you actually going too hard, and need to wind down for a bit?

It’s really hard to have an objective point of view on how much work you get done. If you’re someone who always wants more, then you might feel guilty for not working enough, while still working 3 times more than average. If you’re someone who tends to always postpone and do everything in a rush, the haste might give you a false sense of getting stuff done in an efficient manner, while you’re doing the opposite.

So how do you know if you’re actually working enough? Mostly through the metrics related to your work. Let me explain.

The output metric: do you make progress?

The most obvious thing to look at when trying to get an objective idea of your workload is your progress. Are you making any, and why?

  • Yes, because you’re working efficiently
  • No, but not because you don’t work, simply because there’s so much it’s hard to organize everything
  • No, because you tend to postpone things

There are a ton of possible answers to the question, but these 3 would be the most common ones. Ideally, you want to be in the first case scenario, where work and output are nicely balanced.

Beware of the preparation bias: spending months on preparing a project and never launching ends up being empty work. Eventually, you have to go ahead with what you said you’d do.

The people metric: can people see your work?

The people around you

It’s an interesting exercise to ask the people around you if they think you work. You’ll often be surprised by the answers. Usually, the average of all the answers from your friends, family and colleagues will give you a pretty clear picture of how much you get done.

They might tell you they definitely think you work too much, and you should take it more easy. They can see it.

They might tell you they think you work normally, nothing crazy. They haven’t noticed anything in particular.

They might tell you that they haven’t noticed anything about your work, which might mean you work less than you think. Or they’ve noticed you postpone all the time.

Your audience

The term “audience” here refers to your end customer. The people whom your work is intended for. It could be your readers, your boss, the marketing department, the engineer guys… Anyone who is expecting input from you. Are these guys seeing your work being delivered?

The physical metric: are you tired?

If you’re tired, is it because you’re working, because you’re doing something else, or because being bored and postponing things is tiring in itself?

Do you go to bed exhausted, thinking of how much of a productive day today was? Or do you go to bed thinking “another wasted chance”?

Or maybe you don’t think anything in particular when going to bed? What does that mean in regards to your work?

The time metric: is time flying by?

That’s usually another one of the most accurate, unbiased indicators of how much you work. How fast do your days go by, and what do you do during those days?

Do your days feel long and useless? Or fast and productive?

What about your weekends? Do you spend them having fun because you worked well during the week, or do they tend to feel and look the same as your weekdays?

The stress metric: are you stressed?

You may be stressed even if you’re not working enough. Postponing and not having a clear direction in what you do is not the best way to feel relaxed about things.

On the other hand, you may be relaxed and doing fine even if you’re working 3 times more than average. It all depends how good you are at managing and planning your days.

There’s no rule. The point here is, like with the other metrics, to quantify it and try to understand why it is so high, so low, or in the middle. The metric is only an entry point into a deeper self-analysis initiative. More on this in a minute.

The risk metric: are you putting things on the line?

Forget about the time you spend working or postponing. Are you risking something there? Your money, your weekends, your family time, your health, your sleep…

Do you feel like you’re making a temporary sacrifice to hopefully enjoy the fruits of a more or less risky investment further down the line?

Or do you not have a dog in this fight?

Note: on sacrificing things like health and family, I recommend you read the Part 1, Chapter 8: A Balanced Life, from the book The One Thing (Gary Keller). The entire book is a great read, but this part specifically is a very interesting take on the so-called “temporary sacrifices” we make. Nothing is temporary, your kids don’t stop growing while you’re away.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to get a clear idea of how much work you get done versus how much you should get done, because they both depend on what you think and how you act. You might work 3 times more than the next guy and not even realise it. Or you might work 3 times less and think you need a rest.

The most reliable way to get as clear of a picture as possible is this: be honest with yourself. You can involve people, ask around, compare yourself to others who work more, or less… But deep inside, you probably already know if you’re doing things right or not.

As I said earlier, those metrics are only an entry point into the assessment process. You don’t need to question all of them, only a few will usually be enough. You can be tired for the wrong reasons, or you might be stressed for the wrong reasons. But if you’re honest with yourself, answering those questions will truly help you understand how and why you work like you do.

Finally, remember to be kind to yourself. Questioning your actions and your attitude is a huge step forward on its own, whatever stage you are at with your work. If you know you need a break, whether to reboot after months of not doing enough, or after months or working way too much, then take a break. If you know you need to get to work right away, then do that. But remember to balance it with rest time too.

Work hard, be kind to yourself and to others, and don’t lose sight of your goals.

Thanks so much for reading! I interviewed 50 productivity experts and made a 150+ page guide out of the project. This is road-tested advice from real people who get things done. Get it for free here.

Living with a purpose and improving myself is changing my life — Get my Top 50 Productivity Experts Interviews for free at josephmavericks.com/50people

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