Toxic Productivity: What is it and how can you beat it?

Tired of always being asked and expected to be ‘up to something’ at the weekend? Should you really be worrying about your 5-9? We explain the struggle of how productivity can become toxic and the toll that hustle culture can take.

Toxic Productivity: What is it and how can you beat it?
Whether it's podcasts on success stories, or the perfectly curated Instagram feeds of high-achievers, we are constantly bombarded with images of relentless productivity. Even during times of rest, when questions like “What did you get up to on the weekend?” feel like they needs a ‘busy’ answer.
This societal pressure often leads us into the trap of "toxic productivity". But what exactly is toxic productivity? And more importantly, how can we overcome it?

What is Toxic Productivity?

Toxic productivity refers to an obsession with work and achievements that is deemed unhealthy - where one is driven by guilt or fear of not doing "enough". It's a mindset where taking a break is seen as laziness, or where the need for sleep is dismissed as a sign of weakness. Unlike healthy ambition, toxic productivity is not about the love of work, but rather the fear of inactivity.

The impact of Toxic Productivity

Toxic productivity doesn't just steal away our time; it can also profoundly affect our physical and mental health. A study conducted by UCL revealed that individuals who work excessive hours are more likely to develop depression and anxiety.
Furthermore, research from the Psychological Association shows that toxic productivity can lead to burnout, chronic stress, and even heart disease. By constantly overworking ourselves, we set a collision course with our wellbeing, causing:
  • Increased chance of depression and anxiety
  • Reduced attention span
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lower memory retention
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Higher risk of heart problems, such as a stroke or heart disease. In fact, individuals who work more than 55 hours per week have a 33% higher risk of stroke than those who work 35-40 hours.
Instead of creating unsustainable models of perfection, do what feels good and right for you.”

Symptoms of Toxic Productivity

Here’s a few symptoms of toxic productivity to help you recognise the signs and combat it
  1. Feeling Guilty for Resting If you find yourself experiencing guilt whenever you're not working or being productive, it's a strong indicator of toxic productivity.
  1. Neglecting Healthy Habits Skipping meals, sacrificing sleep, or neglecting exercise to get more work done is a common trait among those suffering from toxic productivity.
  1. Over-emphasis on Work Achievements If your self-worth is solely dependent on your work achievements, it's likely that toxic productivity has a hold on you.
  1. Increased Anxiety and Stress Levels A significant increase in stress or anxiety levels, particularly related to work or productivity, is a common symptom.
  1. Neglecting Personal Relationships If work consistently takes precedence over family and friends, it could be a sign of toxic productivity.

Causes of Toxic Productivity

Understanding the root causes of toxic productivity can help us address it more effectively. Here are some common triggers:
  1. Societal and Peer Pressure The societal narrative that glorifies overwork can drive individuals into a toxic productivity cycle. Seeing peers and colleagues overwork can also contribute to this.
  1. Fear of Failure or Rejection The fear of not living up to expectations or the fear of failure can push people into overworking, triggering toxic productivity.
  1. Perfectionism Perfectionists are more prone to toxic productivity as they often set unrealistically high standards for themselves, leading to constant overwork.
  1. High Achiever Syndrome: Those who identify as high achievers often feel the need to constantly prove their worth through work, making them susceptible to toxic productivity.
  1. Social media The curated perfect looking feed that can glorify productivity and achievements can contribute to internal feelings of needing to produce higher output

How to Beat Toxic Productivity

The good news is, it's possible to escape the trap of toxic productivity. Here's how:
  1. Acknowledge your limits Realise that you're human, not a machine. It's okay not to be productive every single moment. It’s ok to take a break. In fact, it will help your brain function.
  1. Define your own success Don't let societal pressures dictate your definition of success. Only you can decide what success means to you.
  1. Take regular breaks Make rest an essential part of your schedule. Remember, rest isn't the enemy of productivity—it's its greatest ally.
  1. Prioritise self-care A study conducted by the University of Konstanz found that individuals who prioritise self-care experience lower levels of burnout and higher levels of job satisfaction.
  1. Embrace mindfulness, solitude and boredom Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine. Take moments to pause, breathe, and be fully present. It’s also well worth planning in time to do nothing - boredom is great for your brain.
To reach optimal productivity, you need to be rested and healthy. Taking a breaks are essential, and slowing time during your time of rest is key. It’s ok to not always be busy. It’s ok to have a nap in the afternoon. You set your own levels of success, and what’s going on in the world of social media is mostly exaggerated and curated.
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