Toxic productivity isn’t just a bad habit; it’s a severe problem that can take a toll on your health, relationships, and business.
Productivity is often seen as a positive attribute, one that is essential for success in both personal and professional life. It is a measure of how efficiently and effectively we can get things done. However, the pursuit of efficiency can sometimes have negative consequences, leading to what is known as “toxic productivity.”
Toxic productivity refers to the phenomenon where the obsession with being productive becomes harmful to our well-being. This can manifest in many ways, such as constantly pushing ourselves to do more, even when tired or sick. To make it worse, it can also progress into neglecting self-care and sacrificing personal and professional relationships for the sake of getting things done.
One of the reasons toxic productivity is becoming more prevalent is the pressure society places constantly pushing us to perform and achieve. With the rise of the gig economy and remote work, the lines between work and personal time have become blurred. Regrettably, this has made it easy for people to fall into the trap of working around the clock. Additionally, the growing emphasis on personal output as a measure of success and worth can lead to adopting poor self-care habits. For instance, it can mean becoming overly focused on checking items off our to-do lists, rather than taking the time to rest and recharge amongst others.
What causes toxic productivity?
In today’s fast-paced and competitive world, we are under constant pressure to be productive and to achieve success in all aspects of our lives. One of the main causes of toxic productivity is the belief that one must be productive all the time to be successful. If you’re worried you’re over-prioritizing work output, here are a few of the most common causes of this problem to help you fend it off:
Self-imposed expectations: Whether it’s parenting or personality type, we often have unrealistic expectations about what we can or should be able to complete. But pushing toward unachievable goals will only cause burnout and frustration.
Competition: If your coworkers work 10–12 hour days, you’ll feel inclined to do the same — even more if you’re competitive or working toward a promotion.
Company culture: Some companies are worse than others at mitigating toxic productivity. If your employer’s core values seem to promote work output and neglect work-life balance, you might feel compelled to overwork.
What are signs of toxic productivity?
Not sure whether you’re simply ultra-motivated or experiencing the influences of hustle culture? Here are a few of the most common symptoms:
Guilt over not doing anything: If you experience guilt when enjoying free time or missing a to-do item, you’re likely influenced by productivity culture.
Taking on too many projects: Being an eager employee isn’t necessarily bad, but stress and output often go hand in hand. If you tend to feel overwhelmed by your workload, it might be time to trim the task list.
Ignoring health and wellness: There’s no work-life balance when you prioritize work above all else. Mental fitness and physical well-being often take a hit in efficency-focused cultures.
Feeling anxious when resting: Rest is essential to our well-being — it even improves work quality and productivity. Feeling anxious when resting — like going to bed or watching a movie — might mean you’re uncomfortable doing nothing.
What to do to fend off toxic productivity?
Set boundaries: Whether working remotely or in-office, laptop and phone use means it’s hard to create boundaries between work and life. But setting rigid hours and sticking to them teaches us that our health, free time, and relationships are important and must be prioritized. Set boundaries between personal productivity and rest, too. Create a schedule for tasks like grocery shopping, food prep, and exercise to avoid overworking during your spare time. Channeling that efficency into your personal life isn’t resting — it’s just another outlet.
Learn to say no: Saying no is hard. We want to please our friends, family, and colleagues. And sometimes it feels like professional development relies on us saying yes to every project and request. But our work performance and relationships improve when we have time and energy to invest.
Have an accountability partner: People influenced by toxic productivity find it hard to slow down because they’re addicted to the good feelings accompanying accomplishment. You might understand the negative consequences of over-working such as fatigue and stress but you don’t know how to stop. An accountability partner or coach can point out when you’re taking on too much or valuing work output above all else and remind you of consequences you’ve lost sight of.
Talk with your manager: If you notice efficency-centered rather than human-centered behavior within your organization, consider chatting with your manager about yhis issue.
Prioritize self-care: If you suffer from the problem, one of the hardest things to do is prioritize self-care. But reframing “success” should help you understand how important taking care of your mental and physical well-being.