We need to talk about toxic productivity
The dangers of toxic productivity and how it's harmful to our lives.
Table of Contents
This November, I’m challenging myself to write every day. You can read them all under the “Shorts” category, where each post should be around 500–1k words. Think of them as “less polished” than my usual longer blog posts. This is Day 16.
Productivity is useful if you need to complete a task or to maximise your time and energy. But if you spend your every waking moment trying to be productive in everything you do, that's toxic. The concept of "toxic productivity" isn't new, but it has done more than a number on us in the pandemic. It's bizarre how we feel guilty for not doing enough with the time we have at home in the middle of a fucking pandemic. We could have used the time to rest more, but toxic productivity left us even more burnout than before. There are times when I am tired of productivity, and this is one of them. Here are three signs that toxic productivity is affecting your life too and how it's harmful:
Working ourselves to exhaustionUnable to rest without feeling guiltyDefining your self-worth with productivity
Even if we have finished our work, we may still feel like we have not done enough. It never seems to be enough. Even when our minds and bodies are showing clear signs of fatigue, we make a dumb excuse that we can only work because we are unable to leave our homes. The lines become even more blurred when working from home. Many of us do not stop when the workday ends. Our work and non-work boundaries become non-existent. I'm using "non-work" here because ultimately work is still part of life. But because of the pandemic, we made our lives revolve around work rather than the other way around.
I like Ali Abdaal's productivity hacks, but it didn't sit right with me when he mentioned watching movies/TV shows/podcasts in 2-3x the speed. Sure, speed it up a little when people are talking on podcasts. But even for movies and TV shows?
In a recent article for The New Republic, the journalist Nick Martin writes that “this mindset is the natural endpoint of America’s hustle culture — the idea that every nanosecond of our lives must be commodified and pointed toward profit and self-improvement.” "We’re so used to making every moment of ours productive in some capacity,” she said. “Like, I’m on a walk, I should listen to this information podcast that makes me more informed or a better person.” (The New York Times)
So many of us fall victims to this fake sense of productivity. It's an all or nothing attitude — either we give it our all or we feel terrible if we don't. The idea of making every second count, even when we're supposed to be resting, is scary and tiring. I say this because I'm part of it as well. I'd sometimes watch a movie while I scrolling through Twitter or doing simple tasks on my laptop. Awful. I have to constantly remind myself that rest is still productive too.
Do you feel as if you're not doing good enough or even enough when you're not productive? Especially when you see your friends and others accomplishing more than you are? That's when you start tying your self-worth to your productivity. Repeat after me: Your productivity does not determine your worth. We shouldn't feel like a failure or deceive ourselves into thinking we need to be constantly doing something to be enough. We deserve to rest (and maybe spend another 10 minutes on Instagram) when it's time to rest. It's fine to push ourselves when we can, but only if we know how to set boundaries by getting enough rest and time to ourselves.
It's time to unlearn toxic productivity. We all have different coping mechanisms, but overworking isn't one of them. In fact, it's counterproductive if you're stressed out. So, have more compassion for yourself and get that rest. You deserve it. We all do.