Escaping the Productivity Comparison Trap

Productivity Comparison

If you care about improving your productivity or maintaining good levels of productivity, one of the worst traps you can fall into is comparing yourself to others. This is known as the productivity comparison trap. In this article, we describe the nature of this trap, how it can impact your productivity levels, and how to avoid the desire to compare yourself to others.

What Is the Productivity Comparison Trap?

The productivity comparison trap involves constantly judging your productivity levels against those of others. The comparison makes you feel worse about yourself if you perceive others are more productive than you. (This is known as upward social comparison.) Even if you try to work harder in order to maintain an image of being more productive than others (known as downward social comparison), this has its pitfalls, too. 

There are different reasons the productivity comparison trap exists. The first explanation is a cultural one relating to the cult of productivity in modern society, which places being productive as the highest value, more important than any other facets of life.

Productivity Comparison Trap

Another explanation is technological: we all present our lives on social media in a curated way. And due to the cult of productivity, we make a great effort to show off how productive we are. The problem is that social media profiles are extremely limited. They do not reflect the completeness of a person’s life, including the struggles to be productive.

It’s easy to fall into the productivity comparison trap when you spend a lot of time on social media. But whether or not you fall into the trap due to social media, when you evaluate yourself against highly productive people, there is a risk that this could lower your self-esteem, causing you to judge yourself as lazy. Of course, highly productive people can inspire change in us too. But when you compare yourself to others with a self-judgemental attitude, this is when issues arise.

Productivity Comparison Cubicle

On the other hand, you may feel like you’re a productive person based on the judgments you make about others being less busy than you are. This is problematic for a number of reasons. For example, this attitude can stop you from supporting others, since you depend on the struggles and failures of others to feel secure in yourself. Secondly, this downward social comparison makes your self-worth unstable. Anyone becoming successful could bring you down.

In general, the productivity comparison trap focuses on being productive with the aim of standing out socially rather than being productive for internal reasons (e.g. striving to create a meaningful and fulfilling life). 

How to Get Out of the Productivity Comparison Trap

Productivity Comparison Tips

There are several ways to avoid the pitfalls of comparing yourself to others. Some useful tips include:

  • Striving to be productive for internal reasons, such as personal development and building a personally meaningful life.
  • Limiting your time on social media (given that these platforms have a tendency to heighten the productivity comparison trap).
  • Trying to view the high productivity of others as a source of inspiration and motivation rather than a reason to beat yourself up.
  • Supporting others in their efforts to be productive, based on the recognition that the improved productivity of others – assuming they are focused on a positive activity – is a net benefit. It should not be seen as creating a deficit in yourself.
  • Examining the reasons for your struggles with productivity. Once you understand these causes, you will be less likely to give yourself a hard time for being less productive than others. 

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to combat the tendency to engage in unhelpful social comparison, should that mental habit arise. As always, it best to examine your motivations behind being more productive. Make sure that your efforts actually benefit you and others overall and in the long run.

Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer with more than 8 years' experience writing and blogging. His main areas of interest include mental health and psychology and using the insights from these fields to better inform his writing on productivity. You can find more of his work at