The dangerous trap of toxic productivity (and how to avoid it)


Are you constantly “getting things done”?

Are you hesitant to take a break even though you are tired?

Do you have an endless to-do list?

You might have fallen into the dangerous trap of toxic productivity.

Toxic productivity is a mindset or way or working that creates an internal pressure which makes you feel guilty about yourself when you take a breather. It instills a constant need to be productive in every waking moment and get things done resulting in high levels of stress.

Almost a third of employees reported being highly stressed due to work pressures in a survey.

It gets worse.

It starts when you feel you are not “doing enough”. Then, you push yourself and burn yourself out. When you take a break, you start feeling guilty that you are not “pushing hard enough”.

This culture births a cycle that pushes you into a downward spiral. If unchecked, it can lead to severe anxiety, depression, and hormonal imbalances resulting in lifestyle disorders like diabetes, hypertension, and stroke.

In this article, you’ll learn how you can identify the signs of toxic productivity, how it affects you, and what actions you can (should) take to escape its trap forever.

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

How to identify toxic productivity

The first step is identifying the problem early. Many individuals who overwork themselves due to the adoption of a toxic lifestyle just attribute it all to stress and call it a day. Here are some telltale signs that you have fallen into the trap of toxic productivity.

1. You are constantly working

This sign is the easiest one to spot.

Are you working when you are having a meal, or skipping time with your friends and family? Are you replying to work emails at a time that’s meant for relaxing?

Then, chances are you are being toxically productive. If all you do after getting up from the bed until you get back there is a work sprint, you are being toxically productive.

Yes, there are some days when you have to put out a lot of fires but that shouldn’t be the norm.

2. Unable to enjoy stillness

Modern hustle culture says, “the grind doesn’t stop", meaning you cannot sit for a moment and enjoy a cup of tea. As per the rules of toxic productive culture, any moment you are not working is a moment wasted, even if you are using it to heal.

You can test it by observing yourself when you take a break. If you get anxious while taking some time off from work, you are in the dangerous trap of toxic productivity.

3. Your day is never “over”

This is one of the most common phenomenon where no matter how many tasks you tick off of your to-do list, there is always more. Having a bottomless to-do list is another clear sign that you have been sucked into the vortex of toxic productivity.

In the rare instances where you tick off all the tasks that you need to get done, you add a few more because “the grind doesn’t stop”.

4. Improper prioritization of tasks

Are all the tasks you need to do equally important? Definitely not, but modern hustle culture will make you believe that. This toxic productivity symptom will always keep you running and have you spend a lot of energy on shallow tasks.

If you have one or more of the above symptoms, it is likely that you have fallen into the trap of toxic productivity.

In some cases, you are pushed into a lifestyle of toxic productivity. Many companies are starting to normalize the “work hard, play hard” phenomenon in which an employee is completely drained at the end of the day.

Putting in overtime is encouraged and taking time off, even when necessary is frowned upon. To deal with that environment you need to understand the long-term effects of toxic productivity.

How toxic productivity harms you

Saying “toxic productivity is harmful” is a massive understatement. If working all the time is the new normal for you, here are some consequences that you can look forward to.

1. Deterioration of mental and physical health due to high-stress levels

The biggest price you will pay after adopting the modern hustle culture mentality is damaged health due to stress.

Stress affects the levels of important hormones such as cortisol, insulin, adrenaline, estrogen (in women), and testosterone (in men). These hormones help you heal, stay motivated, and execute biological processes. Stress disrupts that equilibrium.

You may find it difficult to concentrate, sleep, stay calm, digest food properly, and enjoy other things in life because of all of that. Furthermore, increased levels of cortisol are linked to higher chances of cancer and stroke because it weakens your immune system.

2. Damaged self-worth because resting will induce guilt

Toxic productivity does more than negatively affect your health. It also alters your perception of yourself.

The toxic productivity culture will directly link your self-worth with the amount of work you get done during a day. The problem is, however, that the amount of work is not definite. You are never “done”. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

Every time you decide to take it easy, your mind will not interpret it as healing or relaxing. Rather, thanks to the hustle culture mindset, you will interpret it as “not putting in work” or “slacking off”.

This mindset will prohibit you from taking a short break once in a while, which will actually increase your productivity without damaging you.

3. Inability to enjoy life due to the wrong perception of “success”

One of the main reasons that made the modern hustle culture is because it creates an image of a successful version of you. And, according to the hustle culture, you can get there one day, if you just keep putting in the work.

Of course, that image is better than the life of your current reality as it is imaginative. But that doesn’t mean you cease living life.

Unfortunately, one of the mantras of the hustle culture is to “never get comfortable”.

How to break out from toxic productive cycles

If you have identified that you have fallen into the dangerous trap of toxic productivity and want to avoid the above consequences, we have some good news.

Here are four actionable steps that you can take right now to break the cycle.

1. Accept that it is a problem and that it can be solved with time

Earlier in this post, we explained how toxic productivity can become a huge problem in life when unchecked. Just like any other problem, the first step is to acknowledge it. This will act as a starting point that you can compare with as you slowly get out of this vicious cycle.

The second step is to understand that it will take time to get out of there. Human beings are bad at estimating how long it will take to complete a task so it might take longer than you think.

Furthermore, setting a definitive date to get out of a toxic productive cycle is ironic.

2. Prioritize your tasks properly to avoid burdening yourself

Task prioritization helps you segment your day where you can dedicate your time for both deep and shallow work.

You won't be in "sprint mode" all the time and can relax if you get the complex tasks out of the way first.

Here is where you can use a tool like Sunsama.

Sunsama, your new productivity assistant, will help you prioritize your tasks by dragging them through the list. Take a look.

If you are using task management apps like Trello or Asana, you can integrate them too.

3. Add non-work things to your to-do list

Here is something you wouldn’t normally hear: you can add things that help you relax on your to-do list as well.

Sometimes breaks are necessary, especially if you finished working on a long report or sat through a tiring meeting. Listening to music, meditating, or reading a book — you can add these kinds of tasks to your to-do list.

4. Don’t add more tasks after you are done for the day

The toxic productivity culture pushes people to keep adding tasks to their day until they go to bed. You can easily break this damaging habit by simply not adding tasks to your day when you have completed them.

With Sunsama, all you have to do is click the “Shutdown”/”Reflect” button. Take a look.

Wrapping up

Here is what you need to do to break out from toxic productive cycles:

  1. Accept the problem and give yourself time to get out of it
  2. Prioritize tasks properly
  3. Add non-work things to your to-do list
  4. Enjoy your day after you complete all the tasks

We hope that you can now take a positive step towards a better lifestyle with the help of this article.

One more thing.

Sunsama is not a task manager, it is your virtual assistant that will help you maintain a work-life balance.

Try Sunsama for free.

Facebook iconTwitter IconLinkedIn icon