How to deal with self-criticism on unproductive days

How to deal with self-criticism on unproductive days

No matter how many productivity tips I post on this website, I still always get the same question: what can I do if I just can’t manage to be productive? The truth is, we’re not made to always be productive. But how do you deal with self-criticism on unproductive days?

Lately, I’ve been struggling a lot with this. Due to some stuff I’ve been going through, I’ve constantly been tired, felt nauseous, or had persistent headaches. Not a fun situation to work with!

In an attempt to feel as good as I possibly could, I started sleeping in more. Going to bed earlier. Being careful not to miss meals, and so on. Good for self-care, bad for productivity. But sometimes, that’s just the way it is. You can always get stuff done later, but once your health is gone, it’s gone for good.

But how do we deal with self-criticism on unproductive days like that? How can we accept that we need to take care of ourselves, even if that means not getting as much work done?

Remember the pyramid of needs

Do you remember the pyramid of needs I talked about in my post “How to focus on the truly important things in life”? If not, here you go:

How to focus on the truly important things in life

This hierarchy described by Maslow is about the most accurate description of life I have ever seen.

When you’re really hungry or thirsty, it’s suddenly all you can think of. When someone in your family gets sick, their recovery is the only thing that counts. Compared to these more basic needs, work, and productivity, seems much less important. Almost pointless.

This pyramid is a great way for prioritise what really matters. If you have everything you need, your relationships are in order and your health is good: go ahead, just get to work!

But if that’s not the case, productivity might simply not be the first thing on your list right now. 

Understanding this can really help you deal with self-criticism on unproductive days. 

Instead of beating yourself up about it, you need to understand that you cannot be productive when your more basic needs aren’t met.

Instead of getting frustrated, tend to it. Take care of the parts of your life that need it most. And don’t worry about being productive until after everything’s better.

Trying to be productive at all cost when other parts of your world are crumbling makes about as much sense as trying to send an email while drowning in the sea. Or something like that.

Basically, you need to accept that work isn’t the most important thing on earth. And once in a while, it needs to wait while we take care of the rest.

Stop worrying about financial resources

In a capitalist society that seems to measure people’s value by their wealth, it can be hard to walk away from money. Moreover, we tend to always feel like we lack financial resources. Like we continuously need more. Even if we actually have enough.

I can’t prioritise my health, I need the money!

If that was your first reaction to the last paragraph, you’re not alone. Just like you, I constantly get stressed about money. What if I don’t make as much this month as I did the months before? What if my business stops doing good and I don’t make enough money anymore?

With thoughts like this spinning around in your mind, it can be really hard to deal with self-criticism on unproductive days. 

There are two solutions to this. Replacing your scarcity mindset by an abundance mindset, and realising that money isn’t the answer to everything.

Stop being afraid to lose money, or never make money again. Instead, accept that you have the exact amount of money you need right now. In the future, you can make as much money as you desire.

If your life doesn’t revolve around work right now, then that’s how it’s supposed to be. Instead of fighting things you cannot control, focus on working with what you have. Take care of yourself, your loved ones, your health. 

Money doesn’t define you. It won’t protect you from bad things happening, and it won’t make you happy. So, take it for what is it: something you can achieve in abundance (there’s enough money for everyone). And a means to pay rent.

Focus on a single valuable task every day

In a way, unproductive times can be really beneficial. Just think about it: if there’s a very limited number of things you can get done in a day, you really have to focus on the most valuable, important ones. And don’t we all want to spend our time on tasks that add the most value?

In order to deal with self-criticism on unproductive days, see them as a positive thing. A way to only focus on what really matters.

For example, getting one thing done is better than getting nothing done at all. Right? Especially if that one thing brings you closer to the life you desire.

So, whenever you’re feeling completely unproductive, just examine your to-do list very carefully. Which task aligns most with your dreams? Which task will actually shape your future, instead of just making your boss (or client) happy?

By getting a single thing done, you’re still moving forward. You’re still being productive. Maybe even more so than if you were to complete 56 unimportant assignments instead. 

Seemingly unproductive times can end up being a great incentive to focus on the really important things in life.

Don’t listen to people who say that they’re always working

When you try to deal with self-criticism on unproductive days, it’s important not to compare yourself to others. Especially people who tell you that they are always working, 24/7. 

If you’re anything like me, your first reaction might be to feel bad about yourself. Because you don’t work all the time. But being busy is not the same as being productive. And a person who spends an hour a day creating their dream life will be more successful than someone who spends all day doing pointless stuff.

Besides, don’t you like having a personal life? Relationships and family? Spending time with your cats, dogs, guinea pigs? Reading, watching your favourite films? 

Would you really want to trade all that just to be able to say “I work all day, every day”? I don’t think so.

So, don’t listen to people who brag about working all day. Don’t compare yourself to them. Just focus on doing what’s right for you. Right now, at this time in your life. 

This too shall pass

No matter what (uncomfortable) situation I am in, I always like to remind myself that this too shall pass. Nothing lasts forever. And neither will this unproductive time.

In order to deal with self-criticism on unproductive days, remind yourself that it’s just a rough patch you’re going through.

Don’t beat yourself up about getting less done. Just do the best you can. Just do something to work towards the life you desire. And one day, you’ll wake up feeling like yourself again, ready to tackle a 6-page to-do list all in one day. (I’m joking, don’t do that. No to-do list should ever be that long.)

Now, let me know how you deal with self-criticism on unproductive days! Please leave any tips or thoughts in the comment section. And don’t forget to share this post on social media if you liked it!

4 Replies to “How to deal with self-criticism on unproductive days”

  1. I agree that knowing the difference between being busy and productive is important. Being busy is definitely not something to strive for.
    I also love the last thing you mentioned. Just recently I stumbled across a quote ”nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world” and that perspective is really helpful when we start to feel guilty and criticize ourselves because we’re not being as productive as we would like.
    I just gave myself a few days off this weekend and it felt soo good to get back to work today and be productive again.

    1. That quote is so true! So many things can feel like the end of the world when they’re not even important in reality.
      I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed a few days off! For me, it still can be hard to not feel guilty about taking time off, but I’ve gotten a whole lot better at it. 🙂

  2. a night owl says: Reply

    This really resonated with me! I can be so critical of myself, especially when I’m not feeling productive. I realized one day that I’m not as unproductive as I thought it’s just that I had a really negative mindset. I used to get frustrated that I wasn’t adhering to the strict (imaginary & arbitrary) timeline I set for myself. It’s usually later in the day when I feel like tackling my to-do list, but I used to get mad about that rather than just be happy that I did something. I always wish I could be a morning person but I’m just not, so I’m trying to be more accepting of that. If I’m not constantly fighting against myself it seems a lot easier to get stuff done.

    1. Yes, that’s so true! I used to beat myself up for not waking up at 5 am like other people, but it’s much better to go with a time plan that works for you naturally. I’m glad that you accepted being a night owl, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

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