How to escape your own productivity trap

I’ve recently figured out (maybe more that I’ve accepted it) that I love to follow a fast-paced lifestyle and make myself fall into a ‘productivity trap’. Due to everything being put on hold, I’ve finally accepted that I am someone who needs to stay busy to be happy and avoid actually feeling things.

This mindset is something that will probably end up being damaging the further into my adult life I get. So I’ve spent the week trying out ways to slow down, and accept that it’s okay to and not feel guilty. I know that a week won’t tell me a lot about what works and what doesn’t, but it’s a start.

There is a damaging message that is constantly drilled into us, especially as young adults, that we should always be doing something as it might benefit ourselves or our career. Got free time? Why not volunteer. Sat doing nothing? Read a book instead. But when are we told to embrace free time to rejuvenate our minds and bodies?

If you struggle with these feelings too, or know anyone that does, here are my thoughts and ideas on how to stop falling into a self-made productivity trap.

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Setting weekly to-do lists, not daily

When it gets to Sunday, look ahead to the next seven days and note down any tasks that you want to get done. Even if you wouldn’t normally write them on your to-do list, such as going food shopping or doing some exercise.

By aiming to have more productive weeks, rather than individual days, it can take the pressure off when you’re not feeling up to things one day but knowing and accepting that doing them the next day is fine. You could plan to have a productive hour, day, or week, but sometimes it gets to it and you just can’t do anything and that is okay.

You could even stretch further and do monthly, but things pop up all the time that need doing so this might not work logistically.

Choosing a to-do list style that suits you

Do you write a to-do list by jotting down the most extreme goals and telling yourself you’ll do it all in a day? Me too. There are so many ways that you can write a to-do list to help suit your needs and desires to tick things off.

For me, I’ve found that being really in-depth and positive can help. I usually write to do lists that go something like:

  • Create LinkedIn content for my blog
  • Exercise
  • Bake something
  • Engage with followers on instagram
  • Read

Now I’m realising that gets me nowhere. I come to the end of the day and think ‘oh no I didn’t read a whole book today‘. So now I’m starting to write my lists more like:

  • Write at least one post for LinkedIn and schedule on Hootsuite
  • Go for a walk or bike 4x this week
  • Maybe bake caramel shortbread one day this week
  • Spend some time commenting on posts each day
  • Read for 15 minutes when first wake up every day if I can

Using words like maybe or if I can helps me to not be annoyed if I don’t do it.

Avoid the productivity trap by setting focussed to do lists - image shows a flatlay of laptop, candle, watch, mug, diary and pen
Set yourself more focussed to do-lists

Using apps that reduce phone time

I’ll admit to anyone that I’m addicted to my phone, especially now that my blog is based on it. However, I do often pick it up for no reason whatsover and spend ages scrolling – I’ve done it about 10 times while writing this post.

I really like the app ‘Forest‘ which allows you to set a timer for how long you want to be off your phone for and will prompt you to put it down every time you wake it. Start small and work your way up to longer periods.

Do something creatively productive

Some people might want to be productive all day every day to say that they’ve achieved something or have a result to show for it. So why not put your mind to a project that calms you while having something to show for it at the end?

Get stuck into a project that doesn’t involve too much brain power, such as painting or mindful colouring. The Animorphia colouring book is my favourite!

Make peace with not being busy

Now is probably a better time than any to try and make peace with not living your life at 100mph. Once this is all over and we can, many of us will probably resume our fast-paced lifestyles almost without even thinking about it. So maybe now is the time we should teach ourselves real methods of avoiding the productivity trap in the long-term.

Do you find yourself in a self-made productivity trap? Thriving off being busy but not letting yourself wind down out of fear of guilt, overthinking or sadness? Leave a comment with your thoughts or methods for dealing with this and help others out!

If you’re still feeling stressed about things, why not check out my blog on how to feel less stressed as a young adult?

Productivity trap pinterest pin - reads how to switch off a busy brain

This Post Has 58 Comments

  1. Alyssa

    This was a super interesting post for me, I don’t usually do lists for weekly things to get done. Your mention of the forest app I love because since I’ve recently started my blog I am constantly on it and will just scroll through things too. Definitely going to follow your example!

    1. Maddie

      Thank you very much! It’s great to hear that you’ll try these out and that you like the forest app!☺️

  2. nortoncharity

    I love this post! I especially loved the part about making peace about not being busy. I am having a hard time with that right now. I feel like I need to be busy all the time in order to be productive, but I need to realize it’s okay not to be.

    1. Maddie

      I’m so glad! Yes I’m definitely the same, hopefully you can work out how to not feel that way yourself ☺️

  3. cherbelle

    Loved this. It’s so important to just be kinder to yourself and put less pressure on yourself to be super productive at all times.

    1. Maddie

      I’m glad! Yes I totally agree.

  4. Roni (@writeroni)

    I’ve been using the app todoist for my to-do lists and it has absolutely revolutionised my productivity, I would definitely recommend.

    1. Maddie

      Ooh thank you, I’ll definitely check that out!

  5. Jaya Avendel

    I love how your two to-do lists changed, and how the second one is more specific and leaves a little wiggle room with those friendly ‘maybe’s’. I made a to-do list this morning just for the satisfaction of being able to eventually cross things off; my list is packed with things like ‘clean the basement’ and ‘weed the garden’ . . . eep! 🙂

    1. Maddie

      Thank you, yes it’s definitely good to be nice to yourself when setting tasks! Good luck with your jobs ☺️

  6. glowsteady

    I use Forest too and love it! I always write daily to-do lists but I’m not too hard on myself if today is’t my day and something rolls over to tomorrow. I do have sections on my to-do list for must do today and maybe tomorrow though which is helpful. And 100% agree that detailed to-do points are a must x


    1. Maddie

      It’s great isn’t it! That’s good, you should always just let yourself go at whatever pace you feel that day ☺️

  7. These are useful tips! I didn’t know about that Forest App and I like the suggestion of making weekly to-do lists. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Maddie

      I’m glad you think so! Thank you ☺️

  8. Bumbles

    I’m finding that when I’m super productive I can write two or even 3 blog posts in a day but then if I’m feeling a bit rough I can just stop writing then go weeks without writing so I’m getting into the habit of writing more than one post on my productive days and saving the extra posts for another day to give me a break and let me focus on other things like promoting posts. It seems to be working. Tailwind also helps with that so you can be productive one day and still have everything in the works for the days you know you want a break or you have a normal day job to do.

    1. Maddie

      That’s a great idea, and it’s good that you recognise those changes in productivity! I’m pondering getting Tailwind, I think it would be a great investment but just want to have a strategy planned out first! Thanks for your comment ☺️

    1. Maddie

      Thank you! Glad to hear it ☺️

  9. itsjustjessie12

    I found this post really helpful and useful, I’m very much the same I have to feel like I’m constantly doing something or keep busy to have a purpose, these are all great tips to unwind and calm down, thank you so much for sharing

    1. Maddie

      Ah I am so glad ☺️ I hope they can help you to unwind!

    1. Maddie

      Thank you, I’m glad you think so!😊

    2. travelogged135

      This blog is very useful for me, as I start feeling guilty about wasting my time. This post made me slow down a bit a relax without overthinking. ❤️

      1. Maddie

        I’m so glad it’s helpful to you!😊

  10. annieinwander

    I actually have a similar app to help reduce phone time! I feel the same way. I always need to be busy to feel productive. But it’s important to not be hard on ourselves if we aren’t as productive as we’d like to be for the day, because that’s okay. We all need a day to unwind especially during this time.

    1. Maddie

      That’s cool! Yes I totally agree, it’s difficult but really needed at this time! 😊

  11. Jasmine Mastrolia

    The weekly list is a good idea. I used to do daily lists, but now I switched to a running to do list, with deadlines noted on time sensitive stuff. It’s lifted a lot of pressure, because if I just feel like I can’t be at my best for this task, I know I can put it off for a day without feeling like a slacker

    1. Maddie

      I really like that idea! I’ll try that out myself too. It’s so important to get the balance of being organised and not under pressure! 😊

  12. I am the same way. I started becoming very busy so I can avoid feeling things too; I feel that if I don’t go, go, go, I am not reaching for my goals enough. It’s not good sometimes because I forget I should just slow down before I reach a burn out stage again. I wish during this time of quarantine, I can just unwind but these are helpful tips to remind others to keep exercise as a regimen and do lowkey things!

    1. Maddie

      It’s crazy how addictive being busy and achieving things can be! Good luck with teaching yourself to unwind, it’s so important 😊

  13. Inès

    I am downloading this app Forest as I’m writing this comment. I really need to stay away from my phone sometimes. Also doing weekly to-do list was game-changing for me as it lifted so much pressure off my shoulders ! Nice post!

    1. Maddie

      It’s such a good little tool for helping you stay off it! That’s great to hear – thank you 😊

  14. Anna

    I have always had a love hate relationship with to-do lists. So, I’ve begun focusing on writing 3 things down I hope to accomplish. I would love to try your idea for setting a time for my to-dos, that’s a great idea! Thank you so much for this post, I really needed it here lately!

    1. Maddie

      Me too! That’s a good way of doing it 😊 I’m glad my post has helped you!

  15. Nikki O.

    This is an interesting perspective. It also kind of makes me wonder where do we draw that line between intentional rest and laziness.
    I really liked this post!

    Nikki O.

    1. Maddie

      Yes I often think that too, it’s hard to distinguish! Thank you 😊

  16. untilanotherday

    This post has really gotten me thinking about my own productivity. I love the sound of the Forest app because I to always reach for my phone when I don’t need too.

    1. Maddie

      It’s good to evaluate how we use productivity. It’s a great app!

  17. John Aiwone

    I’m definitely someone who likes their mind occupied but I often take breaks throughout the day and let my mind wander from time to time so I dont get too consumed and anxious working through my to do lists. I do agree with a lot of these tips though. As much as I like doing daily to-do lists, weekly to-do lists seem a bit more realistic and less pressuring. Appreciate you writing this up!

    Johnny | Johnny’s Traventures

    1. Maddie

      That’s good that you take breaks! I’m glad you agree that weekly to-do lists are a good idea, they can make things seem far more manageable. Thank you Johnny ☺️

    1. Maddie

      Thank you ☺️

  18. Nancy

    I love these tips on getting things done. I like a weekly to-do list. Times like this, it is so easy to get lost with the time. I find myself having to do something that I set a couple of days ago because I suddenly remembered. I love the format that you have shared. Some people work differently and that is fine. I agree with making peace with not being busy as well. It is great to chill sometimes. Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy ♥

    1. Maddie

      Thank you very much for your comment ☺️ yes definitely we all have different ways of working!

  19. castlesandturrets

    This is super useful – it’s actually got me thinking a lot about my productivity, and what I can do to improve it! I’ve been a slack recently and really need to do something about it. Thanks for sharing x

    1. Maddie

      Thank you, I’m glad it’s helped you ☺️

  20. Oh I love this! Especially the part about re-thinking your to-do list. Instead of dotting down a huge task, break it down. F.ex. I don’t tell myself to “write a whole blog post”, but give my self the options to at least start it. If I end up finishing it at the same time, that’s just brilliant. Thankfully I’m super obsessed about my phone being as empty as possible, so I’ve only got the apps that I absolutely need every day. Nothing extra. Thank you for sharing these, super good points!

    Teresa Maria | Outlandish Blog

    1. Maddie

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment ☺️ I love how you break down your to-do list, it’s a great way to see your tasks as more manageable. That’s good re your phone too, I think it’s best to not have too many things we can get distracted by.

  21. Gemma

    Great post! I am the same in that I have always loved being busy and i really love weekly to do lists! They just help keep me focused and motivated 😊 xx

    1. Maddie

      Thank you very much. That’s great! ☺️

  22. Inna

    This is such great advice. Doing things Step by step is awesome. Love this!

    1. Maddie

      Thank you ☺️

  23. amymayj

    Great read, I’m really struggling with productivity at the moment as I keep reaching for my phone so it might pay me to download one of those apps! I really like the idea of a weekly to-do list rather than a daily one, it takes the pressure off and you don’t feel so guilty for not doing stuff all at once. Thanks for sharing! x

    1. Maddie

      Thank you ☺️ I hope you find something that works for you, it’s important to not feel guilty if you don’t do all of the things immediately!

    1. Maddie

      Thank you ☺️ xx

  24. Lindsey

    I love this post! This is me so much it’s scary, especially with the “read” on a to-do list and then stressing myself because I haven’t read an entire book. I love the idea of planning for the week instead of each day, that’s definitely something I’m going to be trying to utilise from now on. Great tips – thank you!

    1. Maddie

      Thank you so much! Ahh the reading is one that gets me all the time. Good luck with it😊

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