‘Efficiency Guilt’ And How To Get Rid Of It

When we have an aim that we are trying to work towards, we often put too much pressure on ourselves. Everything we do which is not directly related to those goals becomes guilt-inducing, even if it’s essential, like hoovering or tidying up.

When I am busy, I find that I often have very punishing trains of thought. For example, I enjoy going to cafes to work in a different atmosphere. I’m often very productive and focused when I do this, but all my illustration paraphernalia is at home. For this reason I want to go to a cafe to work, but I feel guilty about doing that because I imagine it would be more efficient to work at home, with stable WiFi and all my things around me, rather than waste time uprooting myself to work in a café. I’ve decided to call this feeling ‘Efficiency Guilt’.

I can’t remember the last time that I really let myself live my life guilt-free, which is quite a sad thought!

In the same way, I often feel like I ‘can’t’ play the piano or read a book because I need to spend time on my illustration – I can listen to piano music or an audiobook while I draw. That will be more efficient, right?

The problem with this mindset is that it may streamline my time, but the feeling of control or self-deprivation that comes with it makes the task joyless. The feeling of obligation and lack of fun ultimately makes me less able to concentrate, leading to lower productivity. There was nothing wrong with these habits in the first place – playing the piano is calming; working in a café helps me focus. Escaping Efficiency Guilt and allowing myself to choose the less ‘efficient’ path guilt-free can actually help me refresh my mind and be a happier, more creative person.

For this reason, I want to reclaim certain activities that I used to enjoy, and make them part of my day once again. I say ‘once again’ as I can’t remember the last time that I really let myself live my life guilt-free, which is quite a sad thought!

Here are a list of things I want to reinstate in my life.

  1. Reading for pleasure, especially before bed
  2. Having really nice baths instead of quick showers
  3. Slow cooking, not just making the same 15 minute pasta or rice dishes
  4. Going for walks just to wander
  5. Playing the piano
  6. Knitting
  7. Browsing bookstores
  8. Making jewelry
  9. Doing my work in cafés
  10. Watching films all the way through
  11. Reorganising my space just to make it nicer, rather than because it’s a mess

The only habit which has survived all the busy times in my life is running. I made this habit when I was still in university. When I run I sleep better, my mind is quieter and I feel good. I suppose part of the reason running has stuck is that I know it’s a great use of my time – I feel no guilt about going for a run, even when I’m very busy.

In the same way, I think making time for actions which are unconnected to ‘productivity’ but make life more enjoyable is important. We often feel that success equates a kind of joylessness – If we’re trying as hard as we can to fulfill our goals then the trade-off must be that we would lose time for our hobbies. That mean’s we’re winning in some way, right?

Wrong! I want to resist this mindset and divest myself of Efficiency Guilt. I will own every moment of my day and fully commit to chill out or to add variety to how I do things, in the same way that I fully commit to other areas of my life.

How to Do This

Every time I think ‘It would be more efficient to work at home – you shouldn’t work in a café’, or ‘have a shower – you don’t have time for a proper bath’ I try to notice the thought. I check if it is valid and appropriate to the moment, or a product of insecurity. If the latter, I remind myself that I don’t need this thought and its aim is to make me feel guilty. I then list the reasons why this thought is incorrect, either in my mind or on paper – for example, ‘this isn’t true’ or ‘I’m actually more productive when I work in a cafe’, or ‘a bath is more relaxing than a shower’ etc. I then let the thought go.

Occasionally (if I’m at a desk) write down the thoughts I catch and write the reasons they are untrue underneath. This is a very simple form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – try to challenge intrusive or biased thought patterns when they appear, but let the thought go and don’t focus on trying not to have it, as it creates more stress.

Doing things we enjoy is an act of self-care. It sets us up for greater creativity and makes us happier people. If you too suffer with Efficiency Guilt from time to time, I hope you can divest yourself of it and enjoy your life a little more, too.