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What is toxic productivity?

Illustration: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

What Is Toxic Productivity? And How Can We Avoid it?

Feel the overwhelming sense to be productive all the time? You maybe caught in a cycle of toxic productivity.

Updated
Life
4 min read

Chances are you started this lockdown with plans of doing something truly meaningful and productive. Chances also are you have been pushing yourself to self-improve, basing it solely on your productivity.

And finally, it is also quite possible that you are feeling overwhelmed because you are simply not able to achieve the ‘unrealistic’ expectations you may have set yourself up for.

Whether it is creating the most complicated three-course meal, writing that book, exercising every day or simply just hustling at work, without a break – toxic productivity does little for quality of work and your life .

Similar to hustle culture or workaholism, toxic productivity refers to an unhealthy and extreme obsession with productivity, with is never ending, also never enough. It stems from a culture that praises and rewards productivity, which is a very good thing, but does not always tell us where to draw the line.

It is an obsession with work where more matters, even if the quality is not exactly great. And the worst part is, it can be so overwhelming, that we can only see our self-worth when attached to the amount of work we are doing.

The Productivity Spectrum

If we are to imagine a productivity spectrum, the two extremes are both unhealthy and affects us adversely. On one end, we are so consumed by work, we have little time for anything else or ourselves. And no matter how much we do, we simply don’t think we have done enough.

On the other end, we are so overwhelmed by our feelings, we are unable to focus on anything for a long time, and keep bouncing back and forth between tasks, trying to achieve absolutely anything and feeling miserable, when you can’t.

What are the signs of toxic productivity?

1. You work so much that it harms your health and personal relationships - If you are ignoring basic human requirements like eating, sleeping, meeting friends and family and forgetting your other obligations and responsibilities, then you are falling into the trap of toxic productivity.

2. Having unrealistic expectations - Expecting the same output from yourself everyday, irrespective of the external factors and stressful situations that may disrupt normalcy, is unreasonable.

3. Being restless - If you feel guilty taking a break or time off and feel your self-worth reducing, you may be suffering from toxic productivity.

And finally, a lot of us attach our self-worth to how productive we are or how many hours in a day we have worked. That is unhealthy. It is important to work hard, but equally important to not work yourself to a burnout.

If you feel like you maybe suffering from a case of toxic productivity right now, you are not alone. And the good news is, you can take simple steps to circumvent this habit. Start by setting yourself realistic goals, that are achievable, can be adjusted as needed and also makes you feel good.

Remember that resting is not for the weak, take breaks to rejuvenate, refresh your mind, without feeling guilty. When you get back to work, you’ll find yourself still productive, but in a calm and a healthy way. Listen to people around you, especially the ones you trust, if they tell you often that you are letting work get in the way of your other responsibilities.

Take time to define clear work - life boundaries, maybe it’s the minimum hours of sleep you will get everyday, spending quality time with family or simply no phones during dinner.

We may often find ourselves caught in a toxic cycle of chasing accomplishments that give us a temporary sense of worth, and when that wears off , we go looking for the next accomplishment. Having and chasing goals are important, but sense of self-worth cannot be defined by that alone.

Treat yourself, like you would a friend, and remind yourself that your goals and your work can shift and it would actually help the quality of what you are doing, and not just the quantity.

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