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Put an End to Productivity Punishment

Find the remedy with your customized permission slip to R.E.S.T.


I’ve been told this more than once. It’s not a surprise or anything … I’m relatively self-aware. But I often wish I had an off button from my reputation as “the responsible one”. I have always tended to equate my self-worth and my value in the world with how many things I was able to get done in any given day.And I know I’m not alone. I spoke with a friend the other day about the shaming self-talk he experiences when he isn’t able to complete his to-do list. He feels like he hasn’t earned any rest or reward unless he has been perfectly productive. Many of us have this old-school puritan work ethic instilled deep in our psyche – especially entrepreneurs and team leaders.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being disciplined and self-driven. But there are so many negative side-effects when we consider self-care something that can only come after a day’s work is done. Perhaps it’s your relationships that suffer: holding resentment towards others who can miss deadlines and still sleep at night. Perhaps it is your physical well being: choosing convenient processed snacks instead of healthy whole foods. Perhaps it’s just that you’ve lost touch with your sense of direction, purpose, and passion around your work.

Like battery acid, productivity shame is a toxic substance that slowly corrodes your ability to take any joy in your work.” – Jocelyn K. Glei



Whether it’s your deep-seated beliefs about responsibility, holding yourself to certain standards, or pleasing an authority figure (real or imaginary) – your reasons for productivity shame may have been valid for a time. Now many of us realize that the time has come to move on. There are plenty of self-help books and inspirational quotes and social media influencers out there aggressively reminding us the hustle culture is dead and that we need to all unplug like Thoreau (at an instagrammable cabin of course). Your own colleagues may even be encouraging you to take a vacation. But despite all this external societal support, you still feel like the exception to the rule, don’t you? Like you’re the only one who really still needs to work nights and weekends? I know I have felt like this. So perhaps some leaders need a more tactical, less philosophical approach to changing these workaholic habits.

I believe the true remedy for productivity shame is creative and unique permission. Instead of just telling you to “chill” “take a day off”, I’ve broken it down into some bite-size exercises that you can incorporate into your daily routine.


To create YOUR version of R.E.S.T., pick one activity from each letter below. Each activity is an ingredient, and the combination will result in your personalized recipe for rest!


  • RECOGNIZE – Take one day next week to zoom out and reflect on the journey of your year. Identify the areas, activities, and relationships that are not serving you. Simply write them down – you don’t need to do anything else. It is enough at this stage to recognize and name the need for change.
  • RALLY – Identify 1-3 sources of energy that reconnect you to your purpose, instead of drudging through the same routine over and over. This may be time in nature, connection with others, or creating art. Especially if you’re an extrovert who’s been social distancing for the better part of a year, you may need to rally before you can truly rest.
  • RESIST – Identify one negative productivity compulsion and stop doing it for just one day. Resist saying yes to that next project or prospect. Resist the urge to help your teammate who can’t meet their deadline. Resist shaming yourself because you didn’t finish everything on your to-do list …. Just for today.


  • EVALUATE – Sometimes in the middle of burnout, we forget how many options we really have. Use sticky notes or index cards to lay out all of the choices that you have in front of you. Stack rank which ones will truly move the needle towards a better sense of balance between productivity and joy.
  • ESTABLISH – Choose one non-negotiable. Perhaps it’s 8 hours of sleep, or not checking email on the weekend. Maybe it’s just drinking more water or eating more vegetables. Establish one new boundary that will allow you to thrive.
  • EVANGELIZE – We tend to stick to our commitments when we share them with others. Tell your team, your family, or your social media followers what you plan to do in order to get more rest. Become an advocate for yourself the way you would support someone you love. Use your powerful voice to share to how you will be changing your habits going forward. 


  • SURRENDER – This one’s really hard, but sometimes we have to give up. Give up control, give up looking perfect, give up on that project that just really won’t get done this year. When we intentionally wave the white flag, it can feel sad, but also is a key step in allowing ourselves to rest. Choose someone close to you and share your surrender in a safe space.
  • STOP – You’re going 1000mph and you feel like you can’t stop. But you can. It might not be for a day … it might not even be for an hour. But can you stop for 10 seconds? Can you stop reading this right now, close your eyes, and take a deep breath? Go ahead. And then do that again later. And tomorrow. And the day after that. Little pauses add up to a more restful and connected life.
  • SHINE – Rest isn’t always about shutting down and hiding away in a hole. It’s about hitting reset and focusing on what gives us life. What’s something you’re really good at, or really passionate about? Can you choose to focus on that today? Share a #humblebrag about your morning run, your painting skills, or your woodworking hobby. Your obligation to your own strengths and talents is just as important as your obligation to others.


  • TEST IT OUT – When you choose to recognize, evaluate, or surrender one thing for one day, jot down the results in a journal. Then see if what worked once will work for a week, or a month. Let yourself commit to a new experiment, observe the results like a scientist, and remember you can always add a new variable when you need to.
  • TRY AGAIN – So perhaps you tried to rally, and it didn’t go so well. You evangelized your plan but it never came to fruition. You told yourself you’d stop and meditate, but just couldn’t find that five minutes. It’s okay. Try again tomorrow.
  • TURN AROUND – I’m a big fan of small changes, but sometimes we find ourselves in a place where a full 180-degree pivot is absolutely necessary. Don’t be afraid of doing something drastic. Were you headed for a promotion? Maybe you need to turn around and go part time. Were you training for a marathon? Maybe you just need to spend more time watching cartoons with your kids. The journey to a balanced life of wellbeing isn’t a linear one – don’t be afraid to take the scenic route.

My most recent combo has looked like: RECOGNIZE – EVALUATE – STOP – TRY AGAIN. I’d be happy to share more in detail about what that looks like for me – and I’d love to know what yours is. I hope that putting together your custom recipe for rest will bring you both productivity and peace with a sense of ease and enjoyment. This isn’t about checking out. Rest is about checking in with yourself so that you can continue to thrive in your purpose!

Theresa M. Ward

I love leading workshops about everything from time management hacks to mindful goal setting. And I thrive on propelling projects towards a successful finish line with an artillery of cohesive tips & tools. Read more…

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