Millennials get a reputation for being a generation of being selfish, flakey, over-entitled, thin-skinned narcissists.
And sure, many of them are.
But there’s also another less talked about characteristic of a generation laden with too much debt, scarcity of jobs, and a daily exposure to overpaid celebrities and Silicon Valley billionaires on social media: guilt.
Specifically, work guilt.
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Work guilt is that constant cold hand on your shoulder telling you that you’re not doing enough.
It’s that feeling that what you’ve produced so far in your life and your bank account isn’t sufficient to justify your existence on this earth.
It’s the unceasing fear that you, twenty/thirty-something year old human on earth, are wasting all of your precious opportunities and talents, and you must justify every single hour of every single day that you do not spend “productively”, because otherwise, you’re a failure.
I’ve felt it many times. And so have you.
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No-one would accuse me of being a productivity junkie.
I can be lazy and frivolous. I go out on Friday nights and enjoy long brunches on Saturday mornings. I own a PS4 and have a Netflix account that sees it’s fair share of action.
But I also have a side to me that can be borderline obsessive about accomplishment, and as such, I’ve spent plenty of years saying “No” to social engagements to soothe my constant work guilt.
I can’t complain though. Over the years that work guilt has been my steadfast ally.
It has helped me adopt a tunnel vision that sees me all the way through the end of big projects: writing books, creating products, finishing degrees, polishing off heavy piles of articles that need to be written – all aided by the demon that tells me I’m not doing enough and need to get back to work.
I used to think life was a choice, between being “productive” and doing everything else: eat, sleep, relationships, friends, family, books, TV, etc…
In other words, I bought into the idea that productivity = hours spent working.
If I wasn’t working, I wasn’t being productive, and that was something to lament.
But the human mind is a complex machine. You can’t just sit it down at a laptop, set it to “work-mode” 24/7, then leave it to run for 6 months.
If you want to be a truly productive person in the long-term, you need to follow a recipe that includes adding meaning and fun into your life.
So now I think of productivity like this…
Productivity = “anything that helps me be more effective in achieving my goals”.
Yes, it’s broad. But it helps me see the value in all the things that help me in my work.
Sounds silly, yes. But it helps when you feel the work guilt taking over to remind yourself that other activities aren’t draining your productive resources.
- Hanging out with friends at weekends
- Going for meals
- Taking a walk
- Reading novels
- Writing a diary
- Talking to family
- Running, swimming, and lifting weights
- Going on dates
- Sleeping 8 hours per day
- Meditation (when I can be bothered)
All of these things in some way contribute to my being productive.
When I forget to do enough of them, I get stale. I get restless. I lose focus and energy, and depression quickly sets in. I lose connection to the world and can’t remember why I’m working so hard in the first place.
But to the truly work-addicted this will seem like a cop out. Am I really just saying that any activity contributes to productivity? That seems ridiculous.
You only define productive activities as those that make you better, more effective, more satisfied in your work.
There’s still junk – addictions and frivolous choices that feel like throwing precious hours in the trash.
- Watching hours of reality TV.
- Watching hours of porn.
- Playing video games for more than a few hours a week as a break.
- Surfing on the Internet/YouTube for hours to procrastinate.
- Shopping as a leisure activity.
- Chatting/texting on the phone for hours.
- Playing games on your smartphone.
- Reading too much politics on Twitter.
Some of these might be meaningful activities to you. I’m not here to judge. To me, they feel like frittering away time.
If you want to test yourself, ask for any activities you do:
“Is this meaningful, or is it junk?” Does this feel like it’s giving me energy? Or is it a mind-numbing distraction to keep myself from the task at hand?
If it’s meaningful, you’ll notice it giving you energy. You’ll return home from that dinner with friends invigorated and ready to work hard the next day, feeling refreshed and satisfied.
If it’s junk, you’ll feel like it’s a pointless indulgence, it doesn’t serve any real need, and you’ll feel sluggish and low energy when you try to pull yourself back to work.
I’m going to spend the next month clearing out my “junk” folder. If you want to join me, let me know in the comments below what activities count as “junk” for you.
Until next time,