Productivity probs in the face of instant gratification

Maybe it’s just winter and winter sucks.

I started the day off so strong.

I woke up early, barely snoozed my alarm. I crawled out of bed and slipped into spandex gym clothes. I ran out the door, drove to the school gym, worked out moderately hard for 45 minutes and made it to class on time. Success! My professor canceled the two English classes I had with her today and one of my classes has optional attendance, so I planned on only attending the one left. I went (unprepared) and still managed to seem prepared by skimming the reading in class and thinking on the spot. My productivity was buzzing high and I was in the best spirits I’d been in for weeks.

Class ended at 11 a.m. When I got back to my apartment and devoured a bowl of cereal, I decided to reward myself with a teeny nap before continuing my day. I had a long day of homework ahead.

That was my first mistake.

The rest of the day was lost after that. I napped for too long and felt guilty. Each time I sat down and started class readings, my eyes couldn’t stay on the pages. I tried to write assignments but couldn’t find the words, instead finding ASOS and YouTube. I resigned to spending just an hour doing whatever easy leisure activity was making me happy, but when it the time to get back to work rolled around again, it was hopeless.

I blamed a few things. First, I blamed the fact that I was in my apartment. I’m almost never home; I generally work in cafes. (See previous post with my problems with that!) So for me, home is for unwinding. I work half in an office and the other half in cafes, attend classes and meetings at school and when my full days wrap up, treat home as my respite. At home, I online window shop. At home, I eat one too many cheese sticks from my fridge. And at home, I sleep.

I also blamed my unhealthy relationship with productivity. A new blogger I found while procrastinating today, Jessie of SunbeamsJess, apparently has a similar relationship with the p-word as I do, as she summed my feelings up well.

“Like many young people these days I have a hard time not working, further compounded by my being self-employed. That doesn’t mean I don’t have downtime, but it’s all too often guiltily snatched when I hit the burnout stage, which in turn can spiral into days of unproductivity,” Jessie wrote.

Me too!! I said when I read that. I showed my boyfriend the screen. “Exactly,” he said as he finished up a day’s work around 10 p.m.

I feel guilty when I’m not working. Conversely, I’m so overwhelmed by the amount of work I have that when I have a free moment, when for example something doesn’t technically have to get done until 9 a.m. Friday… my brain spirals like this: “Yes, maybe you have a few days to finish it, but think of everything else you also have to do. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Chop chop! Put down the cheese stick, omg.”

So I shut the fridge door, berating myself, and listen. I set up my laptop and light my candle and make some tea. I open the book. I begin reading 17th-century philosophers…. then my brain does a little something like this: “It’s due at 9 a.m.? What if you just did it in the morning? Yeah, you’ll get it done. Don’t worry about it!”

Ever since I discovered Tim Urban’s WaitButWhy blog in high school, I’ve referred to that brain character as the Instant Gratification Monkey. My monkey has gone bananas this semester.

By procrastinating my homework in favor of instant gratification activities, like say, things I actually enjoy doing, I only hurt myself. The work gets done. It always does and it always has. Even if it’s late at night or early in the morning and I only get a B.

The suffering comes from guilt. I feel immensely (strangely) guilty when I’m not being productive. Like so many others, my busyness is tied to my identity. I’m a busy person. I’m anxious and overwhelmed. People expect this from me. I expect this from me. So when I chill and give in to my desire to just mindlessly shop on the internet for clothing I’ll never buy, I disappoint myself and conflict with my own sense of identity. I’m failing myself on multiple levels.

If I got the work done early, I could enjoy things without berating myself. But I also need to come to terms with the fact that I can’t work all day every day. I often work even more on weekends, for procrastinating reasons and because I genuinely have a lot of homework. Sunday is a day for procrastinators; it’s the last day of the week to get everything done. Perhaps I should embrace moments during the day when I allow myself to watch or read something for fun, or just sit and think. Like when parents finally cave and allow their children to do the thing they’ve been begging to do. Maybe I’ll stop being so mean to my Instant Gratification Monkey. Sometimes.

Hopefully, I feel more ambitious in the morning. Maybe my monkey will be the one to take a nap.



  1. Dana Marciniak
    March 1, 2019 / 2:15 pm

    This literally happened to me just yesterday. Solid morning…and then the nap. Sure, it gave me a ton of energy which felt good, but I didn’t do much work. Almost nothing. I tried to tell myself I must have needed it, but guilt is all I felt. UGH!

    • vintagelillies
      March 26, 2019 / 1:14 am

      The guilt is the worst part! But I’m trying to err on the side of naps always being deserved, because if you’re tired enough to take time out to take one, then you really need to take one. Believe me, I understand the guilt though! Thanks for reading my post, too!

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