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How to Deal with Toxic Productivity

stressed out looking woman surrounded by reminders of what is stressing her

Do you feel like you’re always running in a circle and still not getting where you want to be? Do you feel like the more you do, the less you accomplish? You might be falling victim to toxic productivity.

Toxic productivity is when you’re accomplishing less, even though you’re working more. It’s a false sense of accomplishment, often followed by a letdown. It’s the feeling that you must keep doing more and more to reach your goals. So, you fall into the trap of overworking and even jeopardizing your health. That’s not a healthy approach.

Some signs that you may be a victim of toxic productivity include:

• You’re always in a rush

• You’re always connected to your work

• You miss out on quality time with friends and family

• You get stressed about missing deadlines

• You feel guilty about taking time for yourself.

• Your self-worth is based on what you accomplish

• You can’t be away from work for long without anxiety

kicking in

• Your diet is less than stellar

“Toxic productivity” is a real thing. Too much of it can cause health problems and affect your relationships with friends and family members. Let’s look at some ways to tame toxic productivity and regain control of your life.

Identify Toxic Positivity Habits

Just as there’s a difference between healthy versus unhealthy dieting, there’s also a difference between productive versus toxic productivity. Some habits that fall into the latter category are:

• Comparing yourself to others and wishing you could

achieve what they do.

• Working at an unsustainable pace and feeling like you

can’t stop because if you do, your work won’t get done.

• Trying to be an expert at everything in all areas of life.

Doing this will soon leave you stressed and burnt

out. The temptation to try to be good at everything is

ubiquitous, but it is not worth it by any means.

• Feeling guilty when doing something fun or relaxing

because it doesn’t involve working towards a goal or

accomplishing something productive.

Until you identify that you have a problem with toxic productivity, you can’t take action.

Define What Success Means to You

The way you measure productivity and success can be different from how another person does, and it’s important to understand what success feels like for you. When you don’t define your values and goals, you’re more likely to take cues from others about what you should do and how well you should be doing it. This can lead you to feel inadequate if your version of success doesn’t match what other people’s definition of success is.

If you’re particularly achievement-oriented or like to get things done (whether or not you’re also a perfectionist), it’s easy to get caught up in the constant pursuit of success and productivity. It can lead to burnout, that feeling that if you just check one more thing off your to-do list, you can finally stop working. But even when you manage to check everything off that list, there’s always more to do.

Make sure you’ve defined what success means to you and that your definition is balanced. If you define success as spending more time with your family or working on personal projects that bring you joy, then those things become your goals. You can then make decisions based on whether they are moving you toward the life you want.

Do some soul-searching and write down what would make you feel fulfilled at work and in your personal life. Once you know exactly what it is that will make you happy, it’s easier to make meaningful changes in your life. Just be sure your goals are balanced.

Take a Break

Too much work and no play is bad for your health. Make a list of fun things you want to do that don’t require distracting screens. These might include exercising, reading, journaling, playing a game, or listening to music. Then find ways to fit them into your day.

Next time you feel your mind straining, pause, and give yourself permission to do something else. Ideally, a day or two away from your project would be nice--if that’s not possible, at least set aside an hour. All your work will still be there when you get back, and you’ll be in a better frame of mind to deal with it.

Taking breaks might seem like you’re procrastinating, but in fact you’re doing yourself a favor. If a break brings you back feeling more motivated to tackle the task at hand, then it was worth it. If nothing else, taking the time away could keep you from burning out and give you clarity about how to proceed with your project.

The Bottom Line

If you struggle to complete tasks within your workday, it might be time to reevaluate your habits and discover what’s distracting you. If there’s too much on your plate, it may be time to set some boundaries and learn how to say no (or at least “not right now”).


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