It’s 5:45 a.m. and the blaring sound of my alarm prompts me to peel my head off my pillow, retrieve my Nikes from the closet, and drag myself to a 6:30 a.m. workout class.
The truth is, I don’t love early-morning workouts, but I’ve managed to convince myself that they’re a must. After all, many of the world’s most successful people work out before sunrise. It’s tip that’s been featured in countless advice columns, celebrity interviews, and “How I Get It Done” articles.
We’re bombarded with pointers that promise a more productive day, and while these tips can be incredibly helpful, the growing emphasis on productivity advice can be overwhelming. If you feel like you can’t measure up to the mega-productive routines of the freakishly accomplished, you might experience “productivity shame.”
In our work-first culture, “Productivity is seen as a 24/7 activity and an identity,” explains Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D., author of Rest and The Distraction Addiction. “If you’re not doing something this instant that generates value, you’re not keeping up; and because productivity is seen as a very personal thing, it’s your own fault if you’re not productive.” Pang suggests that productivity is often measured by how overwhelmed we are, or how dedicated we seem to the task at hand, but we don’t pay enough attention to the guilt that can pervade our mindset when we don’t measure up to others’ habits. “Stories about CEOs and moguls getting up at 5 a.m. or working 16-hour days offer both shame and encouragement,” he says. “You can succeed if you do these things, and you don’t, your own lack of productivity becomes a choice.”
One way to avoid the comparison trap? Seek out role models who have ways of working that feel right for your life, and realize that other people’s tips are subjective, so read those articles with a selective eye. “You’re not going to share the same tastes with everyone,” says New York City-based psychotherapist Katherine Schafler. By reminding ourselves of our innate individuality and uniqueness, Schafler believes we can avoid unhealthy productivity shaming. “When you notice yourself feeling discouraged or inadequate after hearing about someone else’s route to productivity,” she suggests, “Try to think about the approach they chose as a reflection of their personal taste.”
Sheryl Sandberg makes sure she gets eight hours of sleep every night, while Oprah has said she only gets around five. Barbara Corcoran keeps her phone out of her bedroom at night, while Chelsea Handler sleeps with hers under her pillow. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey carves out time to meditate every day, while Mark Cuban spends almost three hours reading. Jessica Alba attends a hot yoga class at 5:30 every morning, while Karlie Kloss prefers to sleep in and work out later in the day.
In our age of constant consumption, we’re continually seeing details about others’ lives in the palm of our hands. That’s not going to stop. But at some point, we’ll have to set a new standard for spending our time productively — one that has nothing to do with what other people are doing.
As for me, I’m still figuring out if early morning fitness classes are right for me. And experts say that kind of experimentation is part of the process of figuring out what systems fit best in our lives — and letting those systems change and evolve as we do. It’s okay to test out different productivity tips from people we admire, and it’s also okay to to feel unashamed if they don’t happen to work. “It’s easy to fall into comparison traps, but it’s also surprisingly easy to get out of them,” says Schafler. “What matters is that you’re kind to yourself through the process.”