The fact is, we live in a productivity and results-based society. In this competitive world, it can be difficult to measure success and our level of effort when we are always being pushed to do more and more.
When we have these societal factors hanging over us, we often ask ourselves "could I have done/been doing more?" This can be quite the insidious question to ask ourselves as the answer may be "yes, I could have been doing more." What you may not consider is that you only have so much mental bandwidth and attention to give any one thing, and chances are, you’re doing enough.
In a world without burnout, you technically could be doing more by working a workweek that is two or three times the hours than you’re presently working. But could you imagine how exhausting that would be? Or, it may truly be the case that you could have given more but then chose not to, sending you into a spiral of guilt that can make you feel even further deficient.
So how do we get around this lose-lose expectation that we need to be doing more and constantly proving ourselves?
It begins by setting boundaries with yourself. In the hourly workweek example, you go into work, putting in your expected hours, and then you leave. In essence you are already setting a boundary with yourself and your job that says “I can give you this much of my time, attention, and energy every day, and the rest is mine.” Whether you choose your hours or they are set by your employer, it is important that you set a limit on how many hours you feel you can tolerate every day. Eventually, you clock out, despite acknowledging that you could have stayed at work an extra number of hours in order to “do more.” This implies that there is an additional clause to the question “could I have done more” and that is “...without completely exhausting myself?”
If we start to change our personal self-talk to ask ourselves “could I have done more without completely exhausting myself?” we acknowledge our needs over the needs of those around us, and we set a boundary of managing expectations. At the end of the day you have your own needs to meet as well. When adding that additional clause, you are showing yourself self-compassion and accepting how much work you have done in any given day, week, or month. You are accepting that you are enough.
You are a person who is worthy of consideration and compassion from others, but also from yourself. Your time is valuable, not only from a perspective of productivity and what you choose to do with that time, but it is also the only time you will have to spend. Remember this when guilt and pressure push you to work to exhaustion. There’s nothing wrong with spending a reasonable amount of time on yourself and the things that are important to you. Your personal needs are just as important as your productivity.