Do you Suffer from Toxic Productivity?

Do you Suffer from Toxic Productivity?

Someone dealing with toxic productivity feels extremely driven to be productive at all times, not just at work but in all areas of their lives.
By Corina Tan

Workaholics are people who generally put their work first and stop at almost nothing to get things done.  We are familiar with the term which has been around for quite some time, however, there has emerged a habitual tendency to go beyond this and take things to a whole new level.  This is called ‘Toxic Productivity’.

Someone dealing with toxic productivity feels extremely driven to be productive at all times, not just at work but in all areas of their lives.  It is the inability to do something just for the sake of doing it.  All actions must always include a goal or an objective that leads to a sense of achievement or personal improvement.  People who suffer from this tend to push themselves to unhealthy extremes to the exclusion of everything else in their lives.  Toxic productivity can actually be very difficult to recognise and spot, and people may be resistant to recognizing it in themselves.  This is because getting things done, and having that sense of achievement simply makes sense.  Also, when you accomplish something, your body releases dopamine which can be psychologically addictive.  It brings pleasure and satisfaction to those accomplishments that keeps your levels of adrenaline elevated.  As a result of how the brain works, toxic productivity can behave like all other addictions, where over time, your body develops a tolerance and needs more to deliver the initial rush.

So, how do you identify if this problematic mindset is one that you or any of your loved ones are experiencing?

  • Relaxing makes you nervous

Whether your downtime consists of watching a movie, taking a walk through the park, crashing on the couch, or just chilling, you find yourself unable to take a break and unwind as you are filled with restlessness and unease at the knowledge that you aren’t doing something more ‘worthwhile’.  If you are invited to take a stroll, for example, your immediate reaction is to question why you would need to.  People with toxic productivity only want to do things for a specific purpose – you want to walk only if it’s to train for an upcoming hiking expedition you signed up for.

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  • Socializing makes you restless

Meeting up with friends or sitting around and catching up with loved ones is supposed to be a fun and vital way to reconnect with other people.  Keeping a good life balance is part of a healthy lifestyle, and having people around to be able to just laugh with and let loose is part of that.  You can recognize if you have toxic productivity when activities like this make you antsy because you feel you are wasting your time as you aren’t accomplishing anything.  As a result, you find yourself avoiding social interactions and declining invitations to meet up.

  • Watching others have fun annoys you

When toxic productivity becomes extreme, you not only hold yourself to a high standard of accomplishments, but you also hold your friends and loved ones to an impossibly high standard.  You start to feel a sense of disdain watching anyone squander time and do something that seems unproductive to you.

  • You don’t feel joy

As short as the word, joy is a simple feeling of delight which is easily missed when you are so goal-oriented.  Even if you initially set a target for yourself that you thought would make you happy, just the act of focusing too much on achieving it can make you lose any joy that you would have otherwise found in it.  If this continues, you could move into a state of depression or anhedonia which is the inability to feel pleasure.  This in turn causes you to lose the ability to fully engage in all experiences that life has to offer.

  • Success feels meaningless

Being successful is the whole point of being productive, but people dealing with toxic productivity end up in a cycle just for the sake of it.  This may mean that even after finally accomplishing your goal, you feel empty and hollow, like it wasn’t good enough.  So much so that you quickly find another task to complete or set the bar higher for another goal.  Sometimes, you can be too burnt out to even appreciate the success attained.

  • Addicted to self-improvement

Self-help books and wellness programs are all fine and well when utilized in moderation, but you must remember that beauty and self-help industries are dedicated to the idea that everybody needs improvement.  They peddle the idea that if you work hard enough or buy enough products to help you get there, that you can eventually achieve what you want in life.  It can feel like you are running an endless marathon of trying to be a richer, smarter, better looking human being, yet never quite getting there.  Eventually, this can slowly shred your confidence and self-esteem, leaving you feeling worthless and frustrated.

If all this sounds a little too familiar, it’s time to break the cycle and toxic pattern that you may have fallen into.  There are some things you can do to get back to a healthier life balance.

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Do nothing – make a conscious effort to take time during your day to do nothing at all.  Stare at the clouds, doodle, walk aimlessly, write a poem, meditate, and most important don’t set any goals at all for anything.

Deal with your feelings – a lot of toxic productivity stems from an inner fear or guilt of failure and unworthiness.  Learning to acknowledge those emotions and face them rather than avoid them with busyness will help you shift the pattern of turning emotion into something else.   A therapist may also help deal with deeply ingrained feelings from the past.

List out your values – Ask yourself what is truly important to you and make a list of values you appreciate.  Then assess them to see if your activities are in line with those values, for example, if you value quality relationships but you spend a lot of the time working in solitude, there is a disconnect.

Focus on self-care – take time to do some relaxing and pampering like taking a hot bath, gently exercising, colouring, working on a puzzle, reading for pleasure etc.  It may seem uncomfortable and a waste of precious time initially, but you are worth the investment.

Unplug – Disconnect from the digital culture and go tech-free for a time.  Schedule at least an hour without any electronics as unplugging is the key to letting stress go.

Toxic productivity not only robs you of the simple joys in life but also hinders you from discovering life’s purpose.  Many times, people who have been caught up with accomplishing goals and setting expectations for themselves, forget what it means to have passion in doing things just for the pleasure of it.  They may also be cut off from forming relationships and bonds that get them through hard times.  Breaking this unhealthy cycle means that you get to rediscover the things you love to do without any need to measure yourself up against anything.  When you start to find joy again in simple pleasures, life becomes meaningful.

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