Toxic Productivity: What Is It, And How Can We Avoid It?

In today’s society, we’re often bombarded with phrases like “rise and grind,” or “the grind never stops.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in being productive and working hard to get what you want, but I’ve noticed that recently, the idea of “productivity” has evolved into something that can hurt rather than help. Sometimes, it seems like it’s become a competition between who got the least amount of sleep or who’s had to skip out on more fun activities because of work or school. I see people burning themselves out and being miserable, just because they think they need to be productive all the time; in actuality, sometimes being unproductive is the most productive thing you can do!

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There's a difference between “good” productivity and toxic productivity, and I think that it’s best seen in the motivation behind why you want to be productive. With good productivity, you’re working really hard and dedicating lots of time to something because you want to - it means something to you. You’re studying hard for a test because you want to do well in the class, or you’re picking up extra shifts because you want to save up for a new car. With toxic productivity, you’re doing these things because you think you have to - you have to be productive or you’re doing something wrong. You don’t clean out your closet because you want to revamp your style, you do it because you think you’ve spent too much of the weekend on the couch. We all need to be careful in making sure that in the pursuit of our goals, our goal doesn’t become constant productivity. Every so often, take a minute to assess your motivations and make sure your mindset is beneficial to your wellbeing as well as your ambitions.

That isn’t to say that good productivity can’t become toxic productivity, and vice versa - that’s where a healthy and sustainable life balance comes in because balance is key to maintaining productivity and not burning yourself out. If you’re consistently skipping out on activities that make you happy in order to do more work, even if it isn’t necessary, or if you’ve lapsed on taking care of yourself for the sake of productivity, your productivity has become counterproductive. It just isn’t sustainable to be operating at 100% all the time - we all need to take breaks and recharge so that we can keep going. This is super hard to do with a mindset influenced by toxic productivity, and that’s okay - it takes practice! It’s so important to prioritize your own wellbeing just as much as any other goals you have because it’s difficult to truly thrive if you’re not living for yours.

Tea cup and candle by a bath tub Photo by Maddi Bazzocco from Unsplash

Everyone is different, so everyone’s threshold for productivity is different. This is why it’s so important to listen to your mind and body so that you actively avoid falling into the trap of toxic productivity. Push yourself to be your best, but know your limits and understand that you can’t expect yourself to be perfect all the time. If you feel yourself slipping, don’t worry, because there are things you can do to get back on the right track! You should do something for yourself, whether that be taking the day off for self-care, hanging out with friends or family, or even switching gears to work on a project motivated by good productivity. Try and find out what’s causing the shift in your mindset, because knowing the root of a problem is crucial to fixing it for good. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself and understand that in order to attain sustainable success, you cannot choose between productivity and wellbeing. 

There is so much more to life than “the grind.” It’s easy to get caught up in our own little worlds, where our projects, assignments, and jobs surround us. This, combined with social media showing us how productive everyone else is being, is a perfect recipe for toxic productivity. Remember to take a breath when things get overwhelming, and know that it’s okay to sit around and do nothing sometimes! School and work will all change and eventually end, but you get to keep your mind forever. Take care of it, and make sure you don’t lose it to “the grind.”

woman working on laptop while holding a mug Pexels / bongkarn thanyakij