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The Era Of Toxic Productivity

Image of a woman working on a laptop.

It’s time we have an open and honest conversation about our work habits, ladies and gents. In today's American work culture we operate on a 24/7 schedule, and if there were more hours in the day, we’d find a way to make use of them. I’ve said it before, “if only there was more time in the day.”

Is the development of toxic productivity doing more harm than good? I think so.

Instead of being inspired and producing results, this mindset can lead people to feel guilty when they feel they aren't doing all they can to achieve their goals; make more money, become an entrepreneur, be the boss. The expectations we’re putting on ourselves can be more toxic than the popular Britney Spears song...But it’s not our fault. It’s a concept so deeply ingrained in our culture, going hand in hand with the “American dream” where if you work hard, no matter the cost, you’ll be rewarded. I’ve seen this plague people even more so during the current pandemic. Because we’ve been homebound it’s expected that we can do more work and get to everything we just didn't have time for before, while maintaining our regular work and homelife. Everywhere you look, people are feeling the pressure to do something productive during this time, whether it's writing a novel, learning to bake bread, or re-organizing their entire home (then update the digital world with the progress via perfectly posed pictures). This working culture can lead us to believe that we’re only having a good day if we're being crazy productive. But this level of productivity inevitably leads to follow up problems. You can call it a hustle, grind, etc., but the bottom line is that linking self worth to productivity is toxic productivity, and is deeply rooted for our community in particular: entrepreneurs.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re very much in favor of hard work and achievement. But not at the risk of sacrificing self worth and quality work.

The big problem with toxic productivity is the serious physical and mental health risks that come along with the lifestyle. In a culture of hyper productivity, being anything less than busy at all times left me feeling like a failure who was wasting my time. If I slept past my alarm, I felt like I’d already screwed up my whole day and was left feeling negative first thing in the morning. I make to do lists, which are a good tool, but if I didn't get every single thing checked off, I felt like I didn't live up to expectations, even if they were self imposed. These small disappointments added up and I’ve suffered multiple burnouts and decreases in productivity.

The solve? I had to learn to not only balance my personal and professional time, which admittedly is way easier said than done, but to readjust my overall mindset. This culture may work for some, but for many it just leaves us feeling inadequate. Now I’m not saying ditch the emails and deadlines altogether, but there’s so much more to life than work. When attempting to ‘detox’ I set clear boundaries with my time and stuck to them (I set aside 8pm-8am to be “turned off”), practiced mindfulness and held myself accountable to recognize when I was feeling overwhelmed and also took the time to address it. I also started breaking my work up into manageable tasks with mental breaks in between (I recognize that this is not practical for everyone, but it works for me).

Our new workplace+digital culture encourages employees to be available 24/7, but being constantly connected creates a hyper-competitive workplace. While some competition among employees is normal, an overly competitive workplace can be counterproductive and overwork staff. The way we value work and climbing the corporate or entrepreneurial ladder over social and personal connectedness can compromise our long-term health and happiness. Whether it's due to the financial consequences of taking sick days, not using vacation time to seem like a “team player”, or because working overtime is now the norm; we are a country of “workaholics”. Numerous studies have found that too much work actually decreases productivity. Employees who work overtime hours can experience numerous mental, physical, and social effects including stress, insomnia, lowered immune system, tiredness, fatigue, lack of attentiveness, weight gain, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Long work hours can also lead to lower overall job satisfaction and employee performance levels. All of this leads to one major issue: burnout. If left unchecked, burnout can spread from your professional life to your personal life, leaving you feeling drained and unable to do activities you enjoy. Ignoring basic human requirements like the need to eat, drink, sleep, or go to the bathroom, and shirking personal responsibilities are all signs of toxic productivity.

The ideals and unattainable goals created by toxic productivity can lead to feeling guilt and shame when you fail to live up to expectations. And if you choose to do something other than work, paranoia and unwarranted stress start to creep in...Is the lifestyle and invisible badge of workaholic honor worth it? According to all of the negative side effects — I say hell no!

So what happens now? What do you do if you’re starting to slip into the category of workaholic and it's just NOT working for you? The first step is recognizing it. So bravo!

Ultimately, your productivity or work does not define your worth. If you find yourself struggling with this, take the time to address it before you burn out or lose your passion for why you do your work or started your business in the first place. Make the changes to your work habits and find a self-care/relaxation method that works for you, so you can be productive in a way that brings you balance and success.

Here’s to being humans not hustlers.

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