• Vicky Ooi

When It's Too Much: Toxic Productivity

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It’s all over your social media feed. Friends posting and tweeting about how they are always doing something meaningful; working and grinding all day every day. The barrage of media that adjures you to always be on the top of your game, reminding you only of the successful people who made it because of their passion and devotion to their time. We can get swept up in the notion that everyone is more motivated and working harder than you.

You start to feel the pressure from this hustle culture consume you that you keep yourself busy and ensuring that you’re always doing, moving, creating, and achieving. And, when you ever find yourself not doing something productive, the guilt starts to creep up on you. With our mobile devices connecting us to the world, there’s almost no excuse to take a break from work when you can be checking emails and work-related projects on the go.

Don’t get me wrong, being productive and motivating yourself to constantly be achieving your goals is not a bad thing. The question, however is, where should the line be drawn so that anything over it is considered too much that it becomes toxic?

What is Toxic Productivity?

If workaholism describes people who compulsively work to excess, toxic productivity would be workaholism on steroids, taking workaholism to a whole other level. Toxic Productivity stems from the exhaustive obsession with self-improvement. Therefore, no matter how productive they are, they will always feel guilty that they didn’t do more.

The way they see it is that all actions and activities done must have an objective that will lead to a sense of personal improvement or achievement or else it would just be a waste of time. Hence, people suffering with toxic productivity often push themselves to unhealthy extremes and focus on productivity to the exclusion of everything else in their lives.

When is it considered Toxic Productivity?

Toxic Productivity is like an addiction. Every time you accomplish something, you get a sense of pleasure from it. That rush of pleasure from accomplishing goals can be psychologically addicting and when you’re constantly achieving, your body develops a tolerance that needs an elevated level of rush to get the same sense of pleasure.

Therefore, it is hard to draw a clear, distinct line as to when a person working too hard would be considered toxic productivity because everybody has different levels of tolerance. But, there are a few signs that you can watch out to recognize the dividing line between a healthy productivity and toxic productivity:


Working obsessively until it begins to affect your health and relationships

The best lifestyle is a healthy one. Your mental health and physical health - if there is no room for balance between these and work, then it’s toxic productivity. People who are affected tend to deprive themselves of sleep because they see sleep as “unnecessary” when they could have been doing something better.

Always keep in mind that your health and wellness (mentally and physically) should always come first. There are consequences of not paying attention to your health like stress, that isn’t as simple as it seems. These tend to lead to other health problems when you least expect them.


Fatigue and Exhaustion

If you find yourself unable to take breaks to unwind during downtime, that could be a sign that you’re trapped in the cycles of toxic productivity. Or, if you are having difficulties relaxing or falling asleep because of work-related thoughts, that too could be a sign of it. One way to verify this is to look at how much energy you have in the morning. If you wake up feeling tired and tell yourself that this is normal and not a bad thing, it could be a red flag as well.


Socially Disconnected

People who deal with toxic productivity often find themselves losing the ability to participate and engage fully into social activities and conversations with people around them. While people see catching up with others as a way to reconnect and bond with others, toxic productivity will make one feel like time is being wasted.

How do we deal with Toxic Productivity?

If you find yourself already caught in the cycle of toxic productivity, being upset will only make the situation significantly worse. Being in denial that you indulge in such behavior could potentially lead to self-criticism and may stop you from solving the problem.

Toxic productivity is usually triggered by an underlying fear of guilt, failure, and unworthiness. Some people may push themselves hard and stay busy to prevent it from happening while others do it to avoid acknowledging the fact that the fear exists.

Instead, face your fears. Acknowledge that failure can happen and that it isn’t something that we should be afraid of. Reflect on times when you were able to be productive without compromising on your health and well-being; Talk to a trusted friend or family member for support and feedback when needed. And if things still don’t seem to improve, seek professional help to assist you in dealing with deeply ingrained feelings that you may or may not be aware of that is causing this.

Being productive could be for the better or for the worst, but toxic productivity comes in when we over-compare ourselves with other people’s achievements. Support yourself by choosing healthy productivity over toxic productivity. Always remember that resting is not for the weak, our bodies and minds need breaks to rejuvenate as well!