How to Let Go of Productivity Guilt Post-Pandemic

Yes, it’s okay if your work ethic has changed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 157 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and 67% of the adult population has received as least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. With the rise of vaccinations, though, comes the return of “normal” life as we once knew it. Many of us are saying goodbye to our work-from-home offices and social distancing and saying hello to indoor activities and social gatherings once again.

There’s no denying that this return into the world is exciting, but it’s also exhausting. As we reflect on our life pre-pandemic, some of us can’t help but question how we once juggled so many tasks and activities, like commuting to and from work, exercising, socializing with friends, and coming home to take care of ourselves and our families. And if you feel like it takes you longer to do tasks or you can’t stay up as long or hang out as often as you used to without getting tired or burnt out after spending over a year in quarantine, you aren’t alone.

Whether the expectations pre-pandemic were too high or we’re still getting adjusted to “regular” life again, it’s completely natural to feel guilt surrounding our productivity levels and question whether what we’re doing is enough. However, in an effort to adjust to our new normal and let go of these negative feelings, we spoke with a psychiatrist on the best way to deal with productivity guilt post-pandemic.

What causes post-pandemic productivity guilt?

According to Dr. Rashmi Parmar, M.D., a psychiatrist at Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers, two of the biggest culprits for productivity guilt is society’s emphasis on hustle culture and social media. “As a society, we have not just normalized this culture of ‘hyper-productivity’ but also, attach a great value of pride and valor in being able to do so,” she says.

Then, there’s the addition of FOMO from social media. “On top of this (hustle culture), people spending more time on social media get exposed to what others are doing or saying, which feeds into their fear of missing out in keeping up with this culture,” says Dr. Parmar. “Sadly, most of us don’t even realize that we are overstretching our limits until we start noticing the repercussions,” she says. 

How to deal with productivity guilt?

The best way for dealing with productivity guilt is to be mindful of your limits and listen to your body, says Dr. Parmar. Some ways she says you can do that are as follows: 

  • Readjust your expectations. Just because we’re headed back into office and parts of the world are slowly returning to normal doesn’t mean you should be doing more. Evaluate and readjust your expectations based on how much time and resources you have available to you, which brings us to the next point. 
  • Set up a specific to-do list. “Assigning deadlines or time frames to major tasks may help you keep track of your progress better,” says Dr. Parmar. “Avoid keeping vague tasks on your list, and only include essential things that you need to get done for the day, based on how much time and resources you have available.” Once you’ve completed a task, don’t forget to give yourself credit for where credit is due. Taking time to acknowledge your successes will help you let go of that guilt. 
  • Be kind to yourself. The reality is, we went through a pandemic, which turned our life upside down. “Maintaining sanity while keeping up with home and work expectations is not just hard, but may feel impossible at times,” affirms Dr. Parmar. “Practice self-compassion as much as you can and tell yourself it is okay if you are not able to accomplish some things. Whether at home or [at the office], we should be placing less emphasis on productivity and more importance on personal health and happiness,” she says. 
how to deal with productivityguilt

As we head back into our lives, how can we avoid burnout?

On top of the tips for dealing with productivity guilt, it’s necessary to be mindful of how much we’re taking on so that we don’t overextend ourselves and create burnout. Here are Dr. Parmar’s tips for avoiding burnout:

  • Follow a structured routine. Following a structured regimen with set work hours, adequate time for meals, exercise, sleep, and relaxation will keep your days balanced so that you’re not spending all of your time and energy on one task. 
  • Practice mindfulness activities. Dr. Parmar says mindfulness activities can help rejuvenate your energy. “There are several excellent mindfulness phone apps and free online resources available for you to learn this skill,” she says. One we recommend is Headspace
  • Have a hobby! “Engage in things that you enjoy or pick up a new hobby in your downtime to help nurture your creativity while giving you an outlet for de-stressing from your daily routine,” says Dr. Parmar. 
  • Ask for help when needed. Asking for help will be huge for avoiding burnout. “Reach out to your family members for help with home chores or childcare responsibilities when you are busy with work,” says Dr. Parmar. “Similarly, enlist coworkers to help you out when you are busy with family responsibilities.” It takes a village, so don’t be afraid to reach out to yours.

How can we create a healthy, new normal post-pandemic? 

There’s no denying that the pandemic changed everything we thought was “normal” so, relieve yourself from the pressure of going back to the way things were, including your productivity levels, because the truth is, it’s all different now.

Dr. Parmar says embracing the changes, expressing gratitude, and remaining present will help normalize our new way of life. “Embrace the creative workarounds and discoveries that you uncovered while managing your work and home life during the pandemic,” she says. Additionally, “try to find joy in the simplest of things and celebrate the smallest of victories.”

Admittedly, adopting this new way of thinking can take time and practice. But the good thing is, you’re not doing it alone. We’re all trying to figure it out together. So, be kind and patient with yourself and your mental health.