How to overcome “Productivity Dysmorphia”


Do you feel a disconnect between what you have achieved and how you feel about your achievement? If you constantly feel that you are not achieving a lot despite evidence to the contrary, you might be down with a case of productivity dysmorphia.

Many of us don't consider the praises we get and often feel like we are underachieving at our job.

This pushes us to do more often to the detriment of our health and mental wellbeing.

According to Anna Codrea-Rado, productive dysmorphia sits at the intersection of burnout, imposter syndrome, and anxiety.

Example of Productivity Dysmorphia

You are the head of product at your organization, and in the next quarter, you have a massive release coming up.

So you chalk up all the features you want to ship.

You've done your research, tested your hypothesis, and got buy-in from your team.

Now all that's left is for you and your team to execute.

You get to work and tirelessly push feature after feature every sprint leading to that major release.

You're working 12-hour days, and so are your team members.

The day of the release arrives, and it is a big success. Your bosses are happy with your achievement, and you are now being flooded with praise.

While the celebrations are happening, you feel like you didn't do much in the back of your mind.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, you do not see a product leader who delivered but someone who has done nothing or very little to improve your product.

Despite external validation, you still feel like a slacker who could have done so much more, and you couldn't feel more disappointed with your work.

This is productivity dysmorphia.

How to overcome Productivity Dysmorphia

Now that we know about productivity dysmorphia, let us look at ways to manage it and reduce the feeling of disappointment and inadequacy.

Step 1: Write down your list of tasks

The first step in releasing what you have achieved is to write down what you will do and have proof that you did it.

If you take the product manager example from earlier, documenting all the features you shipped, and the steps you took to ensure they happened seamlessly would help you realize what you have done.

Document your tasks and keep milestones at regular intervals to realize that you are making progress.

Instead of having one goal of "Shipping feature A," have multiple milestones like "Complete 50% of the Tickets," "Complete 80% of the Tickets," etc.

This is for ingraining the feeling of progression.

Step 2: Document positive feedback

When you deliver on something and get praised for it or receive a reward for it, document them.

And go back to this documentation when you feel like you haven't achieved much.

Here are some examples:

  • Got praised by someone on Slack or Discord? Screenshot it and add it to a Notion Doc/Gallery.
  • Take time every week (Friday or Saturday) to list and revisit wins from the week that passed.
  • Consistently send praise to co-contributors for a project you finished and document the email/message.

When you document positive feedback, it becomes an easy place to validate your efforts and the value they bring to your team or company.

Step 3: Schedule affirmations & positive messages

Often, negative talk keeps pulling people back into a place where they can't see their achievements and often blame their perceived lack of productivity as a reason for unhappiness.

Ergo, affirmations that encourage positive self-talk become necessary.

Start by writing down a few affirmations based on your past productivity record and ensure that you revisit them often to keep your morale high.

You can schedule this as a reminder, alarm, or just a Slack bot that reminds you of how productive you are even when you regularly feel like you are not.

Step 4: Rethink your idea of productivity

If you work for four days a week but have a 5th day where you are not at your productive best, then that doesn't mean that you had a bad week.

Rethink what it means to be productive and attach it to output goals you were able to achieve and keep them realistic.

You are human, and you can't be expected to attain a standard that is better suited for a supercomputer.

You need your "On time," and more importantly, you need your "Off time," as well. So don't be so hard on yourself.

Accept that there will be days when you are not at your peak levels of productivity, and that is okay.


Final thoughts on Productivity Dysmorphia

While we will all experience variations of this at some point in our work lives, there is no need to panic.

With some practical steps like the ones we discussed earlier, we should be able to cope with the feeling and maybe even thrive despite it.

Thanks for reading.