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The Guilt of Productivity (Why Calling Out of Work Makes You Feel Sick)


This is a continuation of my last post, Do Nothing. Based on your feedback, I have a feeling this is a topic of interest to you. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

Your eyes open. They feel heavy, and puffy.

You’re looking up at the ceiling and you know what time it is.

It’s time to get up.

Time to brush your teeth.

Time to get dressed.

Time to catch a train or beat the traffic.

Time to do what you did yesterday…all over again.

So you go back to sleep. You’re mind, your body… your SOUL! – are asking for rest.

For a break.

For a day off.

You need it.

You want it.

You deserve it.

You wrestle with the idea of calling out. You wish you didn’t have to speak to your boss. You don’t want to fake a sick voice – it’s humiliating.

You’re afraid he’ll know you’re bullshitting. Anxiety sets in so you suck it up and get out of bed. You start getting ready.

As you wash your face you look yourself in the mirror and say “I can’t do this. Not again… Not another day.” The nagging feeling that you need a day off sets in deeper, and you finally give in.

You make the call.

You tell him you’re not feeling well, and you need a day off. Surprisingly, he’s completely understanding. He wishes you the best, tells you to get better and to call him if you need another day off tomorrow. You sigh a sigh of relief, smile and get happy. You feel foolish for ever thinking the world would end by taking a day off.

You go back to sleep and enjoy some much needed rest.

When you wake up, you’re expecting to feel rested and relaxed. But you’re taken back by a sickening feeling in your gut. The rollercoaster of emotions begins.

You feel unproductive. You should have gone in today. There’s so much to do and your boss will be pissed.

Maybe he was being nice on the phone, because as an employer, he can’t just call you a flat out liar. Maybe this is going on your permanent record. Maybe he’s planning your dismissal.

Maybe he’s writing up the termination letter at this very moment!

You feel like you’ve wasted a perfectly good day, and now you’ve put your job on the line just to get a few extra z’s. Maybe you should get dressed and show up. Maybe you shouldn’t have called in at all.

You should have sucked it up and gotten your ass in there.

What a big baby.


When you dig deep enough, you realize what you’re feeling is guilt.

But why?

Why do you beat yourself up for taking one day off?

I know…

You think you should always be “productive.”

You read on the train ride to work instead of enjoying the energy of the people around you. You listen to audiobooks in the car, instead of enjoying the scenery. You take business calls when you’re grocery shopping.

You respond to emails from your toilet bowl.


A quick Google search reveals that productivity is defined as the quality of being productive or having the power to produce. I think this definition clearly reflects how we behave as a culture.

We feel the need to always be doing something. We should always be getting results. We must always be moving forward. We must always be making progress. We should always be striving to reach our goals.

It’s our job to dedicate our lives to achievement!

But I challenge you to question the purpose of productivity. If it’s about the act of producing, you have to take a moment and ask yourself, “What am I producing?”

If the answer is TPS reports, excel spreadsheets and ridiculously long emails about nothing meaningful, then maybe you need to redefine what productivity means to you.

What are you producing? Are you producing anything meaningful? Are you producing anything that’s actually valuable? Are you producing something that adds fulfillment, enjoyment and happiness to your life?

Are you making art?

Are you writing a book?

Are you teaching a child?

Are you growing a garden?

Are you making music?

Are you making history?

Are you leaving anything behind that will be remembered when you’re gone?

Will the blood, sweat and tears you put into your job paint a beautiful picture on the canvas of history forever?

Is what you’re doing with your life really being productive according to YOUR own standards?

Is it possible that the common idea of productivity is totally and completely warped?

In response to my last post, I received an email from a good friend which is what inspired this post. She felt guilty about taking a day off, to the point that she was angered. Here’s what she had to say:

“Yesterday, I was a “QWITR” for a day. I had already worked past my normal hours per week for my graduate assistanship (which I do every week but continue to still put in more hours) so I told my boss “I’m not coming in tomorrow or the next day”. I don’t know why that was so hard for me to do b/c she didn’t seem to mind one bit since I’d already put my hours in (perhaps this is all a hell of my own making). [My dog] had a small operation yesterday too. Anytime anyone or anything has an operation, you see them at their weakest and it is so sad. I wrote my professor for my night class and said “look, I’ve got a dog having an operation I can’t come to class”. I felt guilty, like a teenager skipping class when I’m supposed to be a dutiful grad student. My professor writes back “i love dogs too and completely understand. see you after spring break”. WTH? Why did I feel guilty? So after dropping [my dog] off in the morning, I went home and fell asleep for three hours b/c I’d only slept for 4 hrs the night before. I immediately felt guilty, so guilty it was one of those moments where it actually made me angry that I felt that way. After picking [my dog] up though, it’s like I hit my stride. I am planning a babyshower for a good friend next week and where normally I’d sort of drudgingly do what I have to do for it (in light of all my other commitments…not a reflection of my friendship), I busted out all my crafting supplies, had an awesome organized mess (my preferred working environment) and got to town. It is the first time in probably 3 years (or more) where I found that “sweet spot” the times in my life where I feel most happy making stuff…unadulterated creation time. I too am most happy when I create. When I am deprived/or deprive myself of that, it’s like a slow death. I am told by some artist friends and builders that some people are simply like this. It’s practically genetic.”

Are you depriving yourself of creativity and dying a slow death?

You must allow yourself time to be creative and do what you love. This is what productivity is. We’ve been told our whole lives that going to school and getting a job is what it means to be a productive part of society. That our own interests, which bring us happiness and fulfillment, should remain as hobbies.

Stuff we do when we have time.


It should be priority to put your passions first.

Here’s how I do it, on top of having a full-time job, a wife and two kids.

  1. I wake up two hours earlier than I have to.
  2. I do what I love, which is writing.
  3. I repeat steps 1 and 2 as often as I can.

That’s it.

How early I get up totally depends on how much sleep I get the night before, though. So make sure you go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

Getting up early to work on your passions has it’s benefits, but the REAL feeling of productivity you get is the most fulfilling reason to do it.

  • Waking up early, especially if you have a family, gives you that quiet, uninterrupted “YOU” time that you need to focus.
  • You get to honor your passions and do what you love first thing in the morning. No matter how “unproductive” you may be from that point forward, you still feel like you’ve already done what’s most important to you.
  • Honoring your passions first thing in the morning gets you out the door in a MUCH better mood. You feel happy and fulfilled for the rest of the day. A slight sense of invincibility overcomes you.

Yes, it was hard waking up two hours earlier than I normally did, but I’m telling you, my life has improved tremendously since I started doing it. I still go through some days all groggy-like, and sometimes I yawn up a storm, but it still beats the feeling of skipping out on my passion.

Also keep in mind that two hours is what I need. Maybe you need less time. Maybe you can start by waking up 30 minutes early.

If you need help with becoming an early riser, click here and here.

So don’t feel guilty the next time you call in sick. Know that productivity is what you make it. Redefine it to your liking and focus on doing what really makes you happy.

Screw your boss, he doesn’t know shit. :)

If you’ve never left a comment before, either here or on any blog, take a moment to “produce” one today and answer this:

What activities in your life make you feel most productive?

- Tony

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  • Lynn Hess

    Another wonderful post, Tony!  I just love reading what you write — not only do you tap into subjects and feelings I can relate to (oh, can I relate!) but you have such a clear, compelling writing style. 

    It’s so counterintuitive, this idea of doing less to achieve more, but after so many years of trying it the other way and not getting anywhere, I’m a believer.  I still get sucked back into feeling like I need to be “productive” (and for me it’s not guilt, but panic that sets in — “I’m not doing enough! I’m a lazy loser! I’ll never achieve what I want!”) — but experience has shown me time and time again that when I just slow down and take care of the REAL priorities, the rest just falls into place somehow.

    Keep on writing stuff that helps me remember!  Love your blog and can’t wait to see where you take it.

    • Tony Fuentes

      Thanks Lynn! I totally forgot to mention the panicking aspect of feeling guilty. That’s also a big challenge to deal with. Glad you’ve found ways to slow down. Is there anything in particular that you do that helps you?

      • Lynn Hess

         Well, I’m kind of hit or miss, to be honest.  A little bit of meditation helps, reading inspirational stuff, remembering to observe my thoughts and not necessarily believe all of them….and, really, just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to move forward a little bit each day no matter what.  I don’t always catch myself in time, but when I do, it works!

        • Tony Fuentes

          “remembering to observe my thoughts and not necessarily believe all of them” – I love that. Sometimes you have to take an objective look at what’s running through your head. Sometimes you’ll discover what has influenced certain beliefs. Then you can make adjustments to those thoughts to meet your real needs. If that isn’t “productive”, I don’t know what is. :)

  • Tony Fuentes

    Hey Rosie, thanks for becoming a part of the qwitr family :) Glad you’re having a good time. I’m also happy that your job is a source of love for you instead of misery like is the case for SO many people. But even when you do work you love, like you said, it’s still important to “do nothing.” You’re lucky to have a guy who supports you so well. And he’s luck to have a gal who does the same for him. Keep it up! You guys are an inspiration.

  • Tony Fuentes

    Haha, glad that made you laugh, Raz. Also love that you start your day with a run. I’ve yet to incorporate exercise into my morning activities. And yes, resting is sometimes the most productive thing you can do. What good are you to your passions if you’re too tired to keep your eyes open?

  • Iris Ventura Flores

    Tony I love your blogs I must say you are a great writer this is your passion and your book will be read by many :) 

    • Tony Fuentes

      Thanks Iris, you really know how to make a guy’s day! :)

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  • Joanie

    Hi Tony, I want to just say this blog really struck home with me. Could you by chance tell me some of your sources? I am typing a research paper of procrastination, for my English class in college,  and I really liked some of the things you said.  Thanks!

    • Tony Fuentes

      I’d love to help however I can, although I’m not sure I’ll be much help. Buy hey, I’ll give it a try! :) Email me at – tony at qwitr dot org.

  • Sayambhu

    So how do you tackle an engineering college schedule? Here I need to wake up at 6 in the morning and continuously listen to mind boggling hard and uninteresting lectures till 5 in the evening with free time (lunch break) spent in project ideas , homework discussion. Plus after i get home i get too tired to continue and i sleep. then i wake up after 2 hours and then feel guilty for sleeping too much and then work till late night to get all my assignments done that too half heartily .  After this I still cannot study much since i am a slow learner. My friends get their stuff done much faster than me. Plus when i am working on my computer or just studying, i can’t help but get distracted. It’s Really hard for me to focus and then i try listening to music or meditating which wastes more time….Sorry for such a long post but the guilt of procrastination is killing me and i really want to focus….

    • Tony Fuentes

      Sounds like you’re taking on a lot, all at once. Maybe you don’t need more focus. Try relaxing and enjoy yourself a little. Then work at your own pace when you feel ready. :)

  • Toni Egnitz


    My name is also Toni- with an i. I would just like to say thank you for easing the burden of guilt I am currently feeling about calling out of work for the day. I am a college student, finishing up my bachelors degree in elementary ed and science- with that said, I also work M-F at an after school program with fifty first and second graders. I love what I do; that is the tricky part. Luckily, I work alongside four amazing teachers, so classroom responsibilities are not solely up to me; if they were, calling out would pretty much be out-of-the-question. My dilemma- I literally have been up since yesterday morning, with zero trace of sleep. This was finals week at school. I have been working around the clock to finish an oceanography take home exam, which took me a consecutive 8 hours to complete. YET I still fell compelled to go to my place of employment, to see those beautiful shining faces. Here’s my question- when I call out, am I honest about my exhaustion and source of it? Or, is my sleepless night a sign of irresponsibility? Either way, I need a day. So thank you.


    • Tony Fuentes

      Hey Toni, funny coincidence, I also worked at a school with young children years ago, so I totally get how easy it’s to miss those beautiful faces and the infinite hugs. But you’re also no good to them as a stressed out zombie. So take the day off and recharge. I’m not sure of the details regarding how anal your boss is, how often you call out, etc. So I can’t comment on if you should be honest about the reason you’re calling out, or if a fib would be better. Its totally a case by case basis thing. But generally speaking, honesty is “usually” the best policy. Then there are times when it complicates things more than its worth.

      No matter what you decide, let guilt be the last thing you feel. Whether you dug the hole your in or not, just do what needs to get done and then do better next time.

      And geez, get some sleep! ;P

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