On Guilt, Productivity and Work Logs

IMG_1080It’s been about five months since I committed to writing seriously, so I want to spend a little bit of time reflecting on those five months in this post. In particular, I want to take a look at my ongoing relationship with the concept of productivity and the guilt that goes along with it.

Simply put, productivity is the act of producing things. However, the word productivity has become a buzzword that has spawned a whole genre of videos, books, blogs, conferences etc. etc. that are all focused on increasing productivity. Personally, I enjoy dipping into this genre from time-to-time. However, the gospel of productivity can become toxic, because it’s almost impossible to talk about productivity without feeling like you should be doing more. If the author of the self-help book I’m reading can manage to run a fortune five hundred company, write her memoirs AND run a girl scout troop, why haven’t I finished writing my book? These types of questions can slowly creep in while consuming this type of productivity content.

In the spirit of increasing my writing productivity, I created a work log. My work log went through a few different iterations over the Summer, but essentially it was a notebook where I recorded how much writing I did everyday (see photo above). In the beginning it was great. I started by tracking how many hours I spent at the computer, but I quickly realized the flaw in that system, so I switched to tracking my word counts. The problem started when I started looking at what I had done and decided consistently that it was not enough. In short, I began to feel that my accomplishments did not stand up to my ideas of productivity. I felt guilty about not doing more.

Guilt does not write novels. 

That’s something that I learned over the last five months. I am particularly susceptible to writing guilt because I am purposefully making time in my schedule to write. It’s not as easy for me to fall onto the usual excuses of work and school, while shrugging of my writing as a hobby. That being said, looking at my work log, and feeling bad about not writing enough wasn’t helpful.

You might think that guilt would be a good thing, that it would propel one to write more. In my experience that is not true. Guilt should not be confused with motivation. Guilt tends to plant seeds of doubt (should I even bother with this?), whereas motivation has a positive effect and creates the drive to work harder. There is a place for goals (aka deadlines) and using feelings of guilt to challenge yourself to work harder, but you can’t let it consume you. If it’s not helping, it’s not helping.

Honestly, I think that most productivity-teaching content does aim to motivate, not spark guilt. I think it falls on the consumers to critically engage with the material and their own reactions to it. Is the content firing you up, prompting you sit down and pound out the next bestseller? That’s great! But if you find the content is having a negative effect on you, and guilt is slowing you down, that’s okay too. Maybe it’s time to give the productivity podcasts a break for a little while.

I gave up on my work log at the end of August. I think the concept of a work log is great, and I may return to it someday, but at the time, I realized that I needed to let go of the guilt and focus on being consistent–not rigid–with my writing. Today, my approach is to simply try to write everyday (Monday-Friday). I don’t have rigorous word-count goals, and I work on consciously forgiving myself if I miss a day. And you know what? Despite feelings of guilt, when I look back at what I accomplished since May, I feel good about myself and my work as a writer. I’ve worked through 36,887 words of the draft that I’m rewriting, and I’ve added 12,572 new words to that same draft. Did I write everyday? No. But all of those small and consistent work sessions added up and gave me something tangible to be proud of. So, here’s to the next five months of (guilt-free) writing!

One thought on “On Guilt, Productivity and Work Logs

  1. Productivity when writing is such a haphazard measurement. If I cut 1000 words but add 100 GOLD words, it is a success? If I write 10,000 words of drivel have I benefited? I haven’t found any easy answers myself, yet.


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