Get your team unstuck with Guilt Hour

You know that thing you’ve been meaning to do? The reply to the complex email you’ve been putting off, the phone call you’re dreading, or the task you’re cringing at because the last time through it didn’t go so well? Unless you’re a whole lot more centered than I am, there’s probably a few items like this that serve mostly to make you feel guilty every time you remember that you haven’t done them yet.

Guilt isn’t a great motivator, so a few months ago we added a new item to our work calendar to try to put an end to the avoid it, feel guilty about avoiding it, avoid it some more cycle: the Guilt Hour.

Every Wednesday at 10am, we sit together and look at our tasks lists (we use Personal Kanbans, but any list of stuff you should do will work). We take 2-3 minutes to identify the one thing that we feel most guilty about not having done yet. Then we go around the table and name our One Guilty Task, and commit to spending the rest of Guilt Hour working on it.

That’s it: declare it, do it, move on. And once we implemented Guilt Hour things started to flow in interesting ways.

No one is allowed to judge you on the task you choose. In fact, you’re expected to do the opposite: if someone names something you could help them accomplish, you volunteer to assist with their Guilty Task right away. Taking on someone else’s Guilty Task is considered one of the highest achievements in Guilt Hour. Generally, when you pass a Guilty Task to another person, the guilt that has been preventing it from getting done doesn’t get passed along.

Guilt is waste, so if you can make it disappear by passing a task to someone else, everybody wins. You get to move on to do something else, they get to feel good about helping you out, and if someone was waiting for you to do your task, they’re satisfied too.

You can trade a task, or decide it doesn’t need to get done, or just get the support you need to buckle down and get it over with. You can even nudge someone who may have forgotten to do something for you. The key is that Guilt Hour is guilt free; you can let go of your own guilt, and you’re not allowed to use guilt to motivate someone else.

More often than you would expect someone else has either already done the task you choose, or has a good reason why it doesn’t need to be done. This is the kind of roadblock Guilt Hour removes: while we’re busy feeling guilty the world keeps spinning, and by the time we get around to what used to be an important task, the circumstances have changed.

After a few months of Guilt Hour, we started having trouble coming up with Guilty Tasks every week, but we stick with it: worst case scenario is we all go back to doing something useful. Taking five minutes a week to ensure that none of us is wasting time feeling guilty is well worth it.

By 11am every Wednesday, and usually a lot sooner, our whole team is feeling a lot less stuck.

Guilt Hour works best with a team – declaring your One Guilty Task to others is an important part of the process. If you haven’t got a team, try declaring your task in a comment below and then report back once you’re done.

For more on the experiments underway in our office, visit our Workplace Lab.

Nick Jehlen's picture
Nick Jehlen is a partner at The Action Mill


This is brilliant! I feel more productive just reading this solution. I think that guilt is the biggest thief of all time! It not only leaches the brain at work, but at home as well. Perhaps this is a "family team" solution too. Thank you for sharing this wonderful solution.

Thanks a lot for writing this helpful and quite and intriguing blog.

This is a great concept! Especially the handing off, where guilt is not transmitted. Great team building, everyone is able to focus better on priority tasks once implemented, and, well, just a slight uptick in your quality of life:)
brent schmierbach

I work from home, for myself, so this doesn’t really apply to my work life. I’ve been announcing my "Name it, Claim it, Tame it" list on Facebook for the past few days. Amazing how things that are so big in my head and guilt-inducing just GET DONE when I say it aloud to people who are going to ask me to check back in on it. Going to try to introduce it to the family, but teenaged boys are not known for feeling guilt about socks left in the corner for 2 weeks! -)