Listen to Your Body When You Feel Unproductive

Written by Celz Alejandro

In this toxic hustle culture, rest is for the weak. But is it really?

Around 745,000 people died from overwork in a single year, according to the World Health Organization. This was in 2016. Fast forward to 2020-2022 and you have blurred boundaries between work and home.

Can you imagine?

And yet popular culture still likes to push for a hustle culture glorifying sleepless nights and caffeine addiction.

If that wasn’t enough, we tend to downplay mental and social fatigue even more than physical fatigue. But we shouldn’t rest only when we feel physically tired.

Mental fatigue is real and it’s harder to detect. Here’s how I know I need a break even without obvious physical signs and what I do about it.

How I knew I had to stop and listen to my body

It was a normal day, but was exhausted socially but not physically. No body pains, headaches, grogginess or the like. But mentally, I couldn’t focus, much less get work done.

It was so difficult to get to work, the thought of looking at my to-do list made me want to go back to the bed and curl myself up under the pillows.

This, even though in previous days I was in that groove of being consistent for at least a solid 2 weeks. Frustrating is an understatement.

I felt frustrated at not being able to do anything because physically I was okay. I always got enough sleep, I stopped overworking ages ago, and I ate properly. I was in picture perfect health.

So why couldn’t I do what I needed to do?

Surprise, surprise. Turns out, physical fatigue isn’t the only thing that tires us out.

After observing myself, here are my tell tale signs. I hope that this helps someone out, and we start having more conversations about this.

Tell-tale signs of non-physical fatigue

  • not physically fatigued but you’re not your usual self, mentally.
  • hard time focusing more than usual.
  • you know what you need to do and you know you can achieve it, but something is stopping you and that’s where to frustration is coming from.
  • usually this follows a day or string of days where I’d be super productive. it feels like I went into productivity debt where I took on more work than I should’ve.
  • as an introvert, this also happens after a day of a lot of calls, social gatherings — yes, even if it was all online and I was lying down on the bed all day. This was when I got convinced that as an introvert social gatherings CAN really be draining, literally

What I did: Emergency productivity mode

Like going on emergency mode on your phone. I threw out every strategy, every tactic I would usually do to keep myself productive and went into emergency mod. In other words:

Just the essentials.

So I accepted it: I wasn’t going to be as productive that day, even if the room temperature was perfect, I got 8 hours of sleep, I ate good food. No matter how I changed the external, I couldn’t force the internal. I was bummed, but I listened to my body and rested.

  1. Instead of my usual list of to-dos which has maintenance tasks, client tasks, and growth tasks, I instead picked the top 3 Most Important Tasks to work on for that day (and a few more items just in case)
  2. I chose anything urgent (with an impending deadline that’s actually real) and anything that I wanted to work on, even though it’s not as important right now. Again, emergency mode.
  3. In other words, freedom. I allowed myself to explore and be free from the usual routine.

It’s stupidly simple, really. In other words, I was nice to myself, did anything that was due, and let myself have some freedom. It’s so simple, but so removed from what I know productivity to be. Productivity doesn’t have to be complicated.

Here’s what happened when I gave myself a choice

Ironically, even after playing games, meditating, eating, I naturally (and again, let me emphasize, naturally) gravitated towards studying some obscure thing I wanted to learn more about: learning how to use Webflow and basic videography.

The funny thing is that after an hour or so allowing myself to do what I want, I could really feel being recharged. A telltale sign for me is if I start replying to people again.

Isn’t it funny how great we are at doing what we need to if we were kind to ourselves?

Why it’s important to listen to our body when we’re unproductive

I wouldn’t get mad at myself if I broke a bone. I wouldn’t spiral into self-hatred if I got a fever. I could take preventive measures, but what’s done is done.

Getting angry won’t get me anywhere, but knowing how to tend to it so I can get better faster is the most productive thing I could do.

We’re so dependent on the clock instead of our internal compass.

In extreme cases, we might be killing ourselves from overwork (karōshi). In less extreme, but alarmingly acceptable cases, we just ignore the signs that we need to rest in the name of “productivity”

This needs to stop.

I hate it when we ignore our feelings, our health, in the name of more “productivity” — don’t you?

I think we should.

Yes, we discipline ourselves, but no one ever talks about the journey of disciplining yourself without killing yourself.

It’s always so extreme. Messages of “just do it, you’re just lazy” or “push yourself otherwise you’re not an action-taker” without being tempered with rest makes us think if we’re not doing things all the time, there’s something wrong.

Yes, discipline is great. There are times when we need to do things now. But not every day needs to look the same, does it? Especially as a business owner.

Now I’m not saying this is the only way to do it, but I know if we want to fight off toxic productivity, we need to start talking about out individual experiences to change popular opinion, one person at a time.

That’s why I’d appreciate it if you can share this article this to someone who needs it.

To a healthier, purposefully productive culture, together.

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A productivity geek (and proud!) obsessed with getting things done and still have energy to keep creating, learning, and thriving — with lots of sleep to spare.