Ditch the Guilt: Strategies to Make Time For Yourself

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  • Productivity guilt refers to feeling bad about not getting things done. It’s not easy to turn it all off and put yourself first.
  • Strategies to make time for yourself include taking your own advice, playing your own game, getting real, remembering why you’re behind, and taking it slow.

The Reality: It’s Not Easy To ‘Switch Off’

You see a two-hour window of free time on your horizon. It’s evening, your family is engaged elsewhere, and technically this could be your chance to take that break you’ve been longing for all week. But will you do it?

Chances are, if you have productivity guilt, you won’t. As much as you may long for that break, you’re not going to take it. Turning the ‘off switch’ just doesn’t feel like an option for you. Most educators—in addition to their families—have a group of young people they’re leading and caring for.

If you’re in that category, it’s normal to always feel like there’s something more you could be doing. No matter how alluring the thought of a run or a lounge in the sun might be, you will choose to get something done because there are just too many people relying on you.

Plan for break time. Literally add ‘down time’ on your to-do list and mark it in your calendar. That way you’ll feel like you’ve gotten something done by giving yourself a break. Click To Tweet

I recently learned about productivity guilt because I was getting frustrated with myself and my seeming inability to relax. In case you haven’t heard of productivity guilt, it’s basically feeling bad about not getting things done. It’s a need or an urge to ‘do more’ even if it’s completely unrealistic. The result is often feeling stressed out and anxious because you never feel satisfied with what you’ve completed.

Many of us strive to do our best in all of our roles (e.g. parent, educator, coach, innovator, etc.). Productivity is a good thing, but unfortunately, when we don’t take care of ourselves it can become a hurdle.

Making ourselves too busy and not giving ourselves the downtime we need to recharge can sometimes do more harm than good. I knew I had a problem when I started to notice that I was forgoing my free time to do more chores.  For every window in which I might get some needed downtime, I would ultimately choose to do more work, to get in an extra load of laundry, or to complete some task I had put on the back burner.

This led me to a key source of my guilt. Why did I feel bad dedicating some time for ME and my needs? My mental to-do list was always taking priority over my need to relax. And I was getting tired. The result: I was actually becoming less productive. Due to my lack of rest, I didn’t feel fresh. It took me longer to complete tasks. I also felt more irritable and less patient, which is something you just can’t afford when you’re working with kids.

Strategies to Make Time For Yourself: What You Can Do

After a year of non-stop chaos, I can honestly say that productivity guilt has been something I have been actively learning to remove from my life (it’s a work in progress).  It adds absolutely no value to my life. After hearing from others (mostly working moms) share some of the same sentiments, I decided to write down a few tactics I’ve been trying out so I can get rid of the guilt and find greater balance.

The women I’ve talked to have all been incredible people who in no way, shape, or form should feel guilty about taking a pause and investing some time in themselves and their own needs and interests. Let’s work together to get rid of the guilt and recognize just how much we’re all doing. It’s time to feel good again and to lift one another up.

Below are a few strategies to ditch the guilt. What are yours?

Take your own advice.

You know how if a friend tells you they’re tired and feel like they’re getting nothing done, it’s so easy to see how much they’re doing. Learn how to give that same grace to yourself. You’re doing way more than you think.

Play your own game.

If you have to-do lists, it’s usually safe to assume you’re a planner. Plan for break time. Literally add ‘down time’ on your to-do list and mark it in your calendar. That way you’ll feel like you’ve gotten something done by giving yourself a break.

Get real.

If it’s been weeks since you’ve changed your children’s bedsheets, you are not a bad parent. Let that one go. If everyone’s happy and healthy, if the bills are paid, you’re ahead of the game. Sometimes we just have to get real with our expectations and have to let go of the little things that we’re prioritizing over our own well-being.

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Remember why you’re behind.

Your child needed you. Your students needed you. And guess what? You dropped everything to be there for them. That makes you pretty awesome. Connecting with others, spending quality time, giving ourselves, and giving joy are all priceless ways to use time. If you’re ‘behind’ for these reasons, it seems you have your priorities straight on what’s important!

Take it slow.

You can’t do it all. No one can. You want to make a difference or achieve certain goals, but usually, there’s no rush. There’s nothing wrong with setting tangible goals and making realistic targets. Attempt to take it one step at a time. It may take a little longer, but it’s not worth your sanity. Learn to enjoy the ride.

See the full blog series here!

About Michelle Blanchet

Michelle is an educator striving to improve how we treat, train, and value our teachers. After ten years of experience working with young people, she founded the Educators’ Lab, which supports teacher-driven solutions to educational challenges. Michelle earned a master’s in international relations from Instituto de Empresa in Madrid. She has taught social studies in Switzerland and the U.S. and has presented at numerous events, including SXSWedu and TEDxLausanne. Michelle is a part of the Global Shaper Community of the World Economic Forum. She has worked with organizations like PBS Education, the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, Ashoka, and the Center for Curriculum Redesign. She is the co-author of The Startup Teacher Playbook.