You’re trying to push yourself and stay motivated at work but find you’re slowing down, feeling unproductive, feeling guilty for relaxing or anxious about not getting things done. If this sounds familiar, here are 8 things to remind yourself to help you get back on track with what to do when you feel unproductive.

1. You don’t need to become something to have value

You’re already worth the space you take up.
Hustle culture encourages us to be productive all day long, but it’s not humanly possible. You may have a tough time believing that you always have value. You must tell yourself this over and over until it sinks in and you begin to believe it.

2. You don’t need to strive for perfection

To be perfect is to be an unrelatable human. Imperfection is humanising.

If you’re in business or representing a brand, there is a societal shift in requiring brands to connect and build trust with consumers by being a ‘human era’ brand. According to a research study by design firm Lippincott, brands that behave like humans find more favour with consumers.

Being open, honest, flawed, exciting and empathetic are key characteristics of human era brands. (1)

This brings to mind, one of the most traditional interview questions is ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’
It won’t surprise a hiring manager to hear “I tend to be a perfectionist.” It provides a direct answer to the question while still presenting you positively, implying you are committed to quality and making a difference through attention to detail. On the other hand, it can detract from a meaningful conversation with the interviewer. They are not seeking super-human employees (if they are, run), they are looking for people who are self-aware, know themselves and can improve on their flaws. Answering authentically and providing personal insight will go much further than a generic response. (2)

Haystacks by Monet

3. Great work is more than meets the eye

In the process of creating work, It was common for Renaissance artists including Michaelangelo, Rubens and Vasari to impressionists such as Degas and Monet to draw several preparatory sketches before painting something worthy of going on canvas. For example, between 1890-1891, Monet created a series of 30 paintings of Haystacks dedicated to the haystacks in a field near his house in Giverny. And even he struggled:

“I am working very hard, struggling with a series of different effects (haystacks), but at this season the sun sets so fast I cannot follow it. . . .  The more I continue, the more I see that a great deal of work is necessary in order to succeed in rendering what I seek.”

Claude Monet (3)

Each painting that’s made for people to see takes a long time, let alone all the behind the scenes preliminary sketches we don’t see.

“Design cannot have a good origin if it has not come from continual practice in copying natural objects, and from the study of pictures by excellent masters”

Giorgio Vasari (4)

Someone can look successful overnight or appear to have a high degree of natural talent, however it is more likely there may have been a lot of shadow work to get them there.

4. You are not your (insert blank)

Fill the blank with your word: portfolio, job, title, status etc.
Some people ask what you do for a living to calculate the level of respect to give you. Respect is not classified by working. People can play the ‘I’m better than you’ game, these are not your people.

5. Rest is productive

Your brain isn’t designed to be endlessly productive. in fact, studies have shed light that moving between periods of focus and unfocus is where the brain is most efficient.(5)

Excessive focus can drain your energy, make you lose self-control, impair your decision-making,
When you unfocus, you engage a brain circuit called the default mode network (DMN). The DMN activates old memories, between past, present, and future, and recombines different ideas. Resting and daydreaming enables you to imagine creative solutions or predict the future, and more.

6. Your best looks different everyday

It doesn’t mean being better than anyone else and doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself and wellbeing and that’s okay.

“We overestimate what we can achieve in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.”


Your brain has a cognitive bias known as ‘Planning Fallacy’ which refers to an prediction wherein people hold a tendency to be optimistic that a project will go as well as planned, underestimating the time it will take to complete a task in future, despite knowledge that previous projects have generally taken longer than planned.(6)

“Just because you took longer than others, doesn’t mean you’ve failed”


7. Your brain can’t be grateful and anxious at the same time

Studies have shown that gratitude reduces anxiety in part by optimising the functioning of the autonomic nervous system as well as modulating those same neurotransmitters involved in anxiety.(7)

When anxiety takes hold, seek gratitude.

8. Before you do good, you must be well

Remember being average is easy but trying to improve your capacity to create and innovate takes a great deal of courage. If you’re constantly putting pressure on yourself to do the perfect job, it may lead to self-sabotage. Be easy on yourself and even the hard work will seem easier when you’re not working against yourself.

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