How to Be Unproductive Without Feeling Guilty

Chances are your work has changed with Covid-19 social distancing. You’re working from home or maybe not at all. There is now more space to rest and catch up on Netflix. However, unproductive time can leave you feeling less rested and guilty instead. It may sound like this…

“I should be doing (insert task here).”
“Lying on the couch is a waste of time.”
“I’m being sooooo lazy.”
“I have to be busy.”

Managing life right now is challenging enough without your inner critic giving you a hard time. Here are some ways to find peace in the unproductive times without feeling guilty.

Notice your Beliefs

Along the way, you may have received messages from well-intentioned parents, teachers or bosses, that working longer hours and working harder led to success. That you need to do more to be more. Likewise, being unproductive meant laziness, lack of motivation, and a barrier to achievement.

The word “unproductive” itself can remind us of those messages. Words are important. Instead of describing the time as “unproductive” which can trigger those old beliefs and resulting guilt, try calling it “me time” or “downtime” or “taking a break.”

The Morning Check in

Begin your day with a personal check in. Think about a very good friend or loving family member asking “How are you?”

How does your body feel? Does it want to move? If so, how? Does it feel sore? Tired? Apps like Calm and Insight Timer can help you slow down and guide you to scan your body for this check-in.

What does your body like in regards to sleep, food and exercise? Notice, does your body likes 8-9 hours of sleep a night? If given the whole day, does your body like to work out twice a day or once a week? This pause is a rare moment in our lives. We may have more time to check in with ourselves without outside activities to distract us.

How are you feeling emotionally? Sad? Lonely? Happy? If you’re not sure, take a deep breath. Try on a few emotions and see if they fit. During difficult times, it’s easy to suppress or ignore how we’re feeling. When you check-in, just notice and name the feeling. You don’t have to fix it or make it go away. Knowing how you feel can help you identify the care your emotional self most needs.

Acknowledge your Resources

It’s likely that your resources are not the same as they were during non-pandemic times. You may have less emotional energy than you would on a typical work day. Have compassion for the resources it takes to manage new and changing information during this uncertain time.

The focus, concentration, or even motivation you’d like to have for that home or work task may just not be there because they’re allocated to finding toilet paper, shopping for your parents, or caring for your restless kids.

Set Intentions

Consider setting intentions for the day. Let go of the goal attainment and externally driven pressure and instead think of caring for yourself. Your intentions will be reflective of the physical and emotional needs you identified in your check in.

Is your body feeling like moving? Set an intention to go for a walk, dance in the living room, stretch. Feeling tired? Set an intention for more rest.

Feeling lonely? Your intention may be a connection through an online class or a quiet phone chat with a friend. Feeling overwhelmed by togetherness? More time on your own may be in order.

This works with partners and kids too. Consider a morning household check in. Take a few deep breaths together. Create a moment to communicate emotional and physical needs and intentions for the day.

Ditch the Comparison

Guilt can come from “shoulds.” A “should” suggests there is a right and wrong way to be taking care of yourself, your family and your home during Covid-19 adjustments.

No one has the “right” way to survive physical distancing or quarantine.

There is only the way that works best for you. What you see on Instagram and Pinterest are activities that work for others. You may get some fun or useful ideas to help you cope with recent changes. Consider whether they’d be a good fit for you or your family.

How much is your “work” (professional and personal) being monitored? You probably have more freedom to set your own pace, your own schedule, and have more choices than you usually do.

We are all trying to find the way that makes us feel safe, connected to others and cared for physically. Each person is going to be different. Even within your family, the physical and emotional resources will not be the same.

Your resources will vary day to day

View task completion over time rather than over the course of a day. If today is more of a rest day, enjoy it. Tomorrow may be a day with more physical energy or greater emotional stores for healthy striving and tackling projects.

Even in non-pandemic times, integrating downtime can leave you happier and more productive in the long run. You can learn to build in the slow, gentle times without the guilt. So go for it! Give yourself permission to do nothing. Just be.