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When to STOP being productive

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

It's easy in today's age of social media with 14 year old millionaires, or even just your friends' seemingly amazing lives to feel like you're not doing enough. And so, we push and push ourselves to keep going, to keep attempting to be productive with what free time we have until we get burnt out. Now, not everyone does this, but if you clicked on this blog post you may be a little guilty of this, just as I am.

Although this blog post isn't calligraphy specific, I love an opportunity to self reflect and then share my "findings" with others. This post was actually inspired by a bad case of burnout last year. Thankfully I now try to spot the warning signs early and don't attempt to be productive if I realise that I'm doing it for one of the reasons below.

Reason number one - when you're ill

This may seem like common sense but I'm not just talking about working when you have the flu. I sometimes find I feel physically run down, very fatigued or suffering with a headache and yet I keep attempting to tick something off of my to do list. Not only do I think that's an unhealthy habit but it's really unproductive. I'm inefficient because I'm not feeling 100%. You are allowed to stop and it's particularly important if you're ill to rest, not just physically but mentally as well. Allow yourself to recover.

Reason number two - when you're overwhelmed

When you're overwhelmed it's easy to feel like that it's the absolute worst time to stop. I mean it may be that you have a temporary problem and that issue will eventually resolve itself. Generally speaking though, taking a break helps you to take a step back and act with logic rather than from stress and reprioritise your to-do list. This may mean dropping stuff or juggling stuff about but it's very hard to have clarity unless you give yourself a breather.

The time I was burnt out and the inspiration for this post, I phoned my mum in tears. I said "Mum, I just feel so exhausted and burnt out and I don't know what to do" and she mandated a day off (thanks Mum!). She gave me a bit of direction and told me to take a day off to relax, wear cozy pyjamas and watch comfort films (my ideal comfort day, particularly if there's some good snacks involed). On the second day, plan. Plan out what you'd like to do and in what order and then on day three, when you're feeling more refreshed and in control you can actually jump into action. In someways it seems so simple, but I think sometimes you need someone to tell you to stop. I've actually taken this advice on board recently and took a break before jumping into my role as a full time calligrapher. Now I'm not expecting you to take 3 days to go through this process, that was only because I was seriously burnt out but if you're feeling overwhelmed take a hour or two. Let your brain unwind before jumping back into it.

Reason number three - when you're doing it for someone else

I have people in my life that inspire me and I admire their ability to just keep going but it's only recently I realised that everyone is different. Think of it like a physical activity - if you and some of your friends are running together, people are going to tire at different rates. Would you keep running until you drop just to keep up with your friends even if there's no reason behind the race? No. It's the same with productivity and mental well-being. Only you know how you're feeling and you should base it upon your own needs, not someone else's.

Reason number four - when you're not sure what you're doing it for

Sometimes it's just a bad habit. Now I know some people may say what do you mean it's a bad habit to be productive? I'm referring to not letting your brain switch off. Habits such as having the TV on and trying to work on something at the same time. Do one or the other. When you want to watch TV, let yourself watch TV. Call yourself out on it. I'm super guilty of this so I know that it's hard. Sometimes I also leave my phone out of arms reach so that I can't mindlessly scroll and I just enjoy what I'm doing at that time.

Reason number five - when you're scared of time running out

A bit morbid I know, but it's not something that can be avoided. A lot of the time people want to achieve a specific dream in their lifetime so they spend all of their spare time working on it and not enjoying the small things in life that can be gain by stopping being productive. It may not just be death that is the driver of this, it may be that you want to achieve something before a big life event. Now I think chasing your dreams is amazing and this fear can also be a great driver but if you're starting to feel burnt out pursuing it, it's ok to get there a little bit slower and have a bit of fun in the meantime.

Reason number six - when you've learnt it's "essential" from elsewhere

When I started university to study business it is drilled in to you, you need to do extra curriculars or you will not get a placement year and if you don't get a placement year and take on extra responsibilities you won't get onto a graduate scheme. If you don't get a graduate scheme you're unsuccessful (whatever that means). Now it's not explicitly said in this way but there was definitely a competitive element of university about always doing more and having a flashy cv. It's not just university though, in an age of social media and people only putting the best parts of themselves online it's easy to feel like you're falling behind and again that instills a fear that you have to be productive.

Even after graduating, that feeling has stuck with me. So the last few years I have not stopped always working on some form of side hustle and you know what, it's bloody tiring.

This mindset may also come from family, or a particular work environment. I advise you have a think about where these beliefs have stemmed from and whether you actually want to continue on that same road where you learnt them. If they no longer align with what you want to do with your life consider dropping them and challenge yourself when you find yourself compelled to keep working.

Reason number seven - when you're not in the mood

Now, if you're a student, will you ever feel in the mood to study? Probably not. But I'm not on about general motivation, I'm referring to when you're grumpy, irritable, sad, etc. Earlier I referenced being ill and if you're feeling these emotions, you're also not feeling 100%. Pushing yourself to keep going may worsen your mood and you may find yourself more frustrated.

Reason number eight - when your job is taking it out of you

Some days at work are busy or frankly, just plain stressful. You may find your working several more hours than usual but the feeling that you should be working on your side hustle is niggling at you. You're not a machine, you're not programmed to work every hour of the day. Don't be hard on yourself if your day job is taking up all of your time (literally or mentally) and you don't have the capacity to work on your side hustle right now.


A lot of us have picked up the need to be always be hustling and working on something. Which of these reasons resonated with you? Just remember it's ok to stop being productive, it's ok to stop and take a break and simply enjoy life a little more.


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