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How to be Productive without Losing Your Sanity or Skimping on Self-Care

In our quest to get things done, we might be missing something, or rather someone, very important: ourselves.

That is, in trying to get everything checked off our to-do lists, we might neglect our needs. We might sacrifice sleep. We might work overtime without much, if any, rest. We might feel the pressure to schedule every minute of our day, believing that we should be doing and going all the time.

In other words, we get so caught up in being productive, effective and efficient that we run ourselves ragged.

One reason may be because we think that being more (and more) productive — downloading certain apps, following certain tips — will lead to our dreams, said Tanya Geisler, CPCC, ACC, a leadership coach, who teaches women how to overcome the impostor complex in their life, work and life’s work.

We think that if we get up at 4 a.m., meditate, exercise, drink green juice, jot down our thoughts, write thank-you cards, pack the kids’ lunch and then — “and only then” — check email (all before 7 a.m.), we’ll have everything we’ve ever wanted, she said.

But productivity is personal. So the above habits are great only if they work for you, Geisler said. Productivity is “an inside job. You get to set the parameters.”

“For me productivity is the magical act of transforming my days, my energy, my life into acts, creations, experiences and a life well-lived,” said Jamie Ridler, CPCC, a coach who’s helped thousands of women around the world find the courage and confidence to bring their creativity to life.

“To me, productivity is having a satisfying sense of forward motion and accomplishment. It’s about getting the things done that I want to get done when, for the most part, I’d like to get them done,” said Carrie Klassen, founder of The Pink Elephant School of Kind Business, where she helps self-employed people in helping professions grow their practices.

What does productivity mean to you?

Below, you’ll find six tips for getting things done, while honoring yourself and your definition of productivity.

Put self-care on your schedule.

“Put self-care appointments into your calendar and book them months in advance,” said Klassen, also founder of the website writing and design boutique Pink Elephant Creative. She stressed the importance of treating these appointments “as inviolable as client appointments.”

A self-care appointment is any activity that makes you feel cared for, Klassen said. This might be everything from a massage to a manicure to a therapy session to a yoga class.

Incorporate self-care into daily rituals.

For instance, Klassen loves to read, so she ends the day with at least 10 minutes of pleasure reading. Before getting her toddler up, Klassen sits with a hot cup of something, savoring the silence.

What feels nourishing to you? How can you incorporate that into a consistent part of your day?

Respect or work around your rhythms.

Use your natural rhythms to your advantage, whenever possible, Klassen said. For instance, do the bulk of your work during the times of the day that you work best, whether that’s in the morning or at night.

If you work in an office setting, and your energy is low in the mornings, focus on research or file notes, and move meetings to the afternoon, Klassen said.

“If you can’t rearrange your tasks, you can increase your productivity in a ‘low energy state’ by working in shorter bursts.” Working less, ironically, helps you get more done, she said. You also might take breaks to listen to your favorite song, walk around the block or grab tea at a nearby café.

Be realistic with your expectations.

Ever have a boss who demanded more work than was humanely possible? “We get angry when someone else imposes unrealistic expectations on us, yet we regularly do this to ourselves,” Ridler said.

She suggested reviewing your current to-do list and the timelines and deadlines you’ve set for yourself. Each week or each day aim to accomplish only what you reasonably can—“if everything goes smoothly and you’re feeling great.” If you end up having extra time, you can take on a bonus task or enjoy a walk, she said.

Declare when you’re done.

What is enough for you? When are you really done? For so many of us, there’s no such thing as “done.” Instead, there’s always more and more to do, achieve, complete, review, rework.

But “at some point we have to declare ourselves to be done, for the day, for the night, for the season, so we can get some rest, have some fun and be present to our lives,” Ridler said.

Embrace both structure and flexibility.

“Create enough structure to support your forward momentum and allow enough flexibility to adjust to what comes up along the way,” Ridler said. She does this by carving out blocks of time for her priorities throughout the week. These include blocks for: writing, creating content, business building, spending time with her husband, moving her body and connecting with friends.

The specific activities in Ridler’s blocks vary. For instance, during her writing block, she might create a blog post or work on her book. During her connection block, she might Skype with a colleague or go to choir with her friends.

“This way of working ensures that each of my priorities gets attention while giving me room to adjust to desires, circumstances and opportunities as they arise.”

Being productive doesn’t mean forgetting yourself or your priorities. To the contrary, it means doing what’s critical to you and honoring your needs.


Stay tuned for another piece on productivity, which features more tips on being productive on your own terms.

Laptop on patio photo available from Shutterstock

How to be Productive without Losing Your Sanity or Skimping on Self-Care

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). How to be Productive without Losing Your Sanity or Skimping on Self-Care. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 Jan 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.