There’s a pervasive cultural idea that self-worth is tied to how productive you are in a day.

I’ve come across it many times in my practice. There’s an unspoken idea that the number of items you check off your to-do list determines whether or not your day was valuable, and even whether you were valuable that day. “How was your day?” becomes a question that needs to be answered with a list of what you accomplished.

Productive has become synonymous with worthy. Have you felt it? But productive and worthy are not the same thing, and we have to be careful how much value we place on productivity.

If we aren’t able to accomplish all of our perceived duties, are we any good at motherhood? Are we “good” as women?

The bar has been set so high in terms of productivity that it’s tough to meet our own standards, especially since the sheer volume of tasks can be insurmountable–and this is stressful. Even if we’re getting things done, the constant hum of the to-do list wears out our body’s stress response.   

I admit that I fall into the same trap. The avalanche of tasks can be suffocating. Plus, kids have to eat, the dishes have to be done, and there’s always one more thing I want to finish for my business and my clients. Some level of productivity can serve us and lead to sanity in our personal and family lives–I mean, we have to get things done! But when it starts to feel like you never have a good day because you can never get enough done, your line of self-worth gets blurred.  This is a problem.

Working mothers are particularly susceptible to the trap of productive-equals-worthy, especially because of the pressure we put on ourselves, the people (spouses, children, coworkers) who rely on us, and pervasive social media scrutiny that encourages us to compare ourselves to others and see ourselves as “less than.” These stressors affect working mamas in ways deeper than I could ever have imagined before getting into a career where I sat face-to-face with mothers discussing where their health issues were actually stemming from. We can’t seem to prioritize the self-care we require to feel good and maintain our health–to let our glow and vitality come through–because these tasks don’t fall into the category of “productivity.”

That leads me to the real problem with productivity: It’s not productive to care for ourselves.

Is it considered “productive” to prepare yourself a wholesome, protein-rich breakfast when you could grab toast and get out the door? Is it productive to turn off your devices and sit quietly for twenty minutes? Is it productive to connect with your children over an activity they enjoy? Those things feel good when we do them, but two or three things from the to-do list get shoved aside, and how can we justify that?  

We have to separate our productivity from our sense of self-worth. Don’t let those social media posts fool you–no one has this mastered. I’m my worst critic, but social media isn’t far behind in terms of bullying. If we look to media to tell us about our self-worth, we’ll continue to be disappointed. What we need is compassion and non-judgement for ourselves and for our sisters. We need acceptance for our different ways of getting things done. There’s a lot we could learn a lot from each other on how to make our days lighter, but striving for constant productivity isn’t one of them.

Mamas, we have to wake up and define self-worth within us. We have to prioritize the tasks that are worthy but not necessarily productive.

We can’t get everything done all the time, and that’s okay. Let it go, the sky isn’t falling.  

I’m fascinated by understanding which mindsets in motherhood are helpful, and which are harmful. Productivity walks the gray line between the two. We do need to get things done. But in the end, when we are looking back and remembering what mattered in our lives, productivity will not be on our short list. Life is a series of moments strung together, and the precious few we have right now that are free from the mental prison of constant productivity are what will bring us joy.

Mamas, how do you manage to stay grounded in a compassionate and realistic image of yourself in all the roles you fill?

How do you stay productive without hanging your self-worth on it?   

What methods do you use to allow yourself to prioritize your essential health habits that keep you healthy?

Please share your wisdom. I’m eager to hear your insights.