3 Signs of Productivity Anxiety and How to Manage It
Do you ever think that you aren’t doing enough or that others around you think you should be doing more?
Maybe the list of professional goals and achievements you’ve racked up over the years just never seems to leave you satisfied, or your eye is always on the next target?
Perhaps you feel guilty whenever you enjoy a hobby, focus on your health, or simply do nothing?
If any of this sounds familiar, you’ve likely experienced productivity anxiety, a growing trend among workers in an age where burnout is commonplace.
What is productivity anxiety?
In short, productivity anxiety is feeling like you can never do or be enough. It doesn’t matter how many:
- Hours you work.
- Projects or to-dos you cross off your list.
- Accomplishments you accrue.
You still feel guilt or shame for what remains undone or for giving time and attention to things you see as inherently “unproductive,” like carving out time to rest.
How does productivity anxiety lead to burnout?
From managing multiple priorities at work and juggling activities with family and friends to making time to volunteer and stay involved in professional organizations, our days (and nights) fill up quickly. When life’s demands add up, we can experience physical and mental health symptoms of burnout, including:
- Exhaustion or fatigue.
- Lack of enthusiasm or apathy for activities.
- Reduced performance.
- Headaches, backaches, and other physical pains.
- Changes in diet and sleep patterns.
Experts indicate that burnout is most often associated with job burnout and workplace stress, and productivity anxiety can significantly contribute to this area. When we feel like we can always be doing more – or that we should be doing more to advance our careers and keep up with our peers – this can lead to consistently feeling overwhelmed, stressed, nervous, and restless, all products of living with anxiety.
What are signs of productivity anxiety, and what can you do to manage them?
SIGN #1: YOU NEVER TAKE BREAKS OR TIME OFF
If you find yourself grinding through your work days, working on your off days, or not taking vacation or sick time, stop and ask yourself why:
- Do you have feelings of guilt or shame about resting?
- Are you worried others will judge you for appearing less busy?
- Are you nervous that an ever-expanding to-do list will sink you?
You are not alone if you answered “yes” to these questions! But allowing time to recharge is the key to getting more done while feeling less anxious.
HOW TO MANAGE IT: PROACTIVELY BUILD-IN BREAKS AND OFF DAYS
Did you know that studies show that the most productive people work uninterrupted for 52 minutes, followed by a short break? The reason comes down to our biology: the human brain naturally works in bursts of high activity for only about an hour before transitioning to a low activity mode for roughly 15 minutes. However, it’s important to note that a break should be just that: a break. To get the most from them:
- Don’t use the time to catch up on your voicemail, email, social media, or the internet.
- Step away from your desk or work area.
- Stretch or take a quick walk outside.
- Eat a healthy snack or meal.
- Sip a coffee or tea.
- Meditate or practice mindfulness.
- Catch up with a coworker or friend.
As you become more mindful about breaks, permit yourself to take your PTO, vacation, or sick time to relax and heal. Remember, these are benefits you earn. You wouldn’t leave your paycheck on the table, so treat your time the same way.
Additionally, Gannett Fleming offers flextime, an excellent way for employees to create flexible schedules and take time off without using PTO. It allows our team to prioritize and balance their responsibilities, reducing overall workplace anxiety.
SIGN #2: YOU CONNECT YOUR SELF-WORTH TO ACHIEVEMENTS AND OTHERS’ OPINIONS
Today, we’re more connected than ever, so slipping into the trap of measuring yourself against others’ successes is easy, especially in a professional sense. Seeing your peers setting professional goals and achieving them with apparent ease or advancing quickly down a dream career path can make you feel like you’re never quite “enough.”
Ultimately, we link our self-worth to accomplishments and what others think about us because it satisfies our innate desire to feel valued and seen, If I can just do X thing, I’ll be respected and feel fulfilled.
But how often does the accomplishment or recognition come, a momentary high sets in, then you’re quickly looking to fill a new void? This is why achievements and seeking validation from others never truly satisfy. However, changing your mindset around goals and how you measure your self-worth can help you manage anxiety and discover more happiness.
HOW TO MANAGE IT: SET REALISTIC GOALS AND FEEL YOUR JOY
Most employers require or strongly encourage their employees to set goals and prioritize professional development, and Gannett Fleming is no different. When it comes to goal setting, consider your motives:
- Why am I setting this goal?
- Why do I want to learn more or grow in this area?
- Given my current and projected personal and professional obligations, is this goal feasible?
If productivity anxiety is coloring your responses – I should be taking on more despite feeling burnout, most people with my experience at my age have reached this level, etc. – it’s a sign that the goal might not be a good fit.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t aim for stretch goals or take on goals that challenge you, but consider making them SMART goals with intrinsic motivations, limiting how many you have at one time to a reasonable number.
Additionally, if you notice signs of burnout and are naturally goal-oriented, consider setting a long-term goal to work on managing your productivity anxiety. The best way to do this is to set smaller goals that build up to a bigger lifestyle change. Some goal examples might include:
- Monday through Friday, I won’t check email after 6 p.m. so that I can focus on exploring a new hobby.
- I will schedule at least one PTO or flex day monthly and commit to one vacation annually where I completely disconnect from work, even if it means I do nothing but recharge.
- I will only log onto my social media accounts once daily and limit my daily social media time to 30 minutes.
When I feel physically or mentally unwell, I will give myself the grace to take the necessary time off to recuperate.
- Within the next month, I will explore and implement three tactics to help me when I experience productivity anxiety at work.
Lastly, when you accomplish something – no matter how big or small – take time to feel your joy! Celebrate with anything from a visit to a new place to dinner and a movie with a friend. Whatever feels celebratory to you, use it to nurture yourself.
Also, take time to reflect on the journey and not just the outcome:
- Remember your “why” – why did you set this goal in the first place?
- What did you enjoy most about the process?
- What obstacles did you overcome along the way?
- What did you learn about yourself?
- What did you gain?
SIGN #3: YOU USE “BUSYNESS” TO FEEL IN CONTROL
Sometimes, “busy” and “productive” are used interchangeably, but there is a difference. When you’re constantly busy, this usually means you’re not completing tasks, getting items off your plate, or using your time efficiently. But you can be productive without being busy!
Additionally, some people who experience productivity anxiety use busyness as a way to feel in control. If you’re always doing, it can give you a false sense of control and distract you from uncomfortable feelings and conversations you might be avoiding.
HOW TO MANAGE IT: PRACTICE MINDFULNESS AND MANAGE YOUR LEVEL OF EFFORT
One of the best ways to beat toxic busyness is to practice mindfulness. At Gannett Fleming, all employees have access to the Calm app, which includes helpful meditations, sleep stories, and masterclasses geared toward helping people with anxiety and other issues. However, you can also optimize your workday with simple mindfulness techniques.
Additionally, it’s helpful to take a step back and see how you’re spending your time:
- Are you tied up in a lot of meetings, causing you to work after hours to feel caught up?
- Are you tiering your level of effort based on the task at hand?
- How many items on your to-do list are you crossing off before adding new ones?
- How often do you say “no” to requests or delegate them when appropriate?
If a packed schedule triggers productivity anxiety, try cutting a few things from your plate that aren’t providing value and work on identifying efficiencies that can free up your capacity. Also, have a conversation with your manager about setting the right prioritization.
At Gannett Fleming, We Continuously Invest in Your Well-Being
Ensuring our entire team has access to tools and resources to feel productive, appreciated, and healthy is a key to our success and one of our core values. Enjoy a rewarding career while achieving work-life balance – apply to our open positions today!