Toxic Productivity

Toxic Productivity: How to Spot the Signs and 5 Tips For Breaking The Cycle

May 21, 2021

Having high standards for yourself and being considered an overachiever by others may seem like admirable qualities. But if your days off are filled with guilt and the constant need to be doing something, you may be suffering from toxic productivity.

Here are a few ways to tell if your productivity is toxic—and what you can do to break the cycle.

What is toxic productivity?

Attached to high standards and unrealistic expectations, is an obsession surrounding accomplishment and self-improvement. But regardless of how much you can get done in a day, there always seems to be a sense of guilt for not doing enough

In our fast-paced lives, busy schedules, and ever-changing technology, our personal values often get pushed aside. We don’t always make time for the things that matter most.


Here are 3 signs of toxic productivity:

  1. You neglect your basic needs. Yes, it is certainly admirable to be resilient in the face of obstacles. Still, if your hard work leads to neglecting your basic needs – eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. – then your work ethic may be toxic productivity in disguise.
  2. Difficulty with rest or stillness. If you struggle to be alone whenever you’re not working or staying busy, your relationship with productivity may be toxic. Days off are filled with a sense of restlessness when you finally decide to give yourself a break.
  3. Your relationships are suffering. Maybe your family expresses their frustrations with you constantly or complains that you’re always working. Or, people complain that you’re not present with them emotionally or physically. Rather than connecting with loved ones, you may feel rushed to do something else because it feels like an inefficient use of time.  In this case, forgetting to make time for your relationships can signal that your work harms your relationships with your loved ones.


5 tips for breaking the cycle of toxic productivity

If any of the above is starting to sound familiar, it doesn’t have to stay this way. Here are a few things you do to build a healthier relationship with your productivity:

  1. Set realistic goals for yourself and be flexible when needed. Whenever you come across extra demands and strict deadlines, your stress increases; in turn, your ability to think is diminished, meaning it may take you even longer to accomplish a task. Extend those deadlines and accommodate your stress levels.
  2. Redefine what “rest” means to you. Start looking at breaks as an investment of your time. They pay off later on, when you go back to focusing and getting things done.  Studies have shown that the brain has natural peaks and valleys for productivity. If you determine what times of day you’re most productive, you can schedule 5-10 minute breaks in the meantime and ultimately reach your goals more effectively, rather than when you feel on the verge of collapse. You’ll feel a lot better, and your mind and body will thank you.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about connecting to yourself and the present moment. It’s been proven to have various mental and physical health benefits and increases activity in the brain’s area responsible for decision making, logical thinking, and executive functioning. Plus, you can reap the benefits with just 2-3 minutes a day. Check out this body scan or deep breathing exercise to get started.
  4. Practice self-compassion. In the midst of feeling shame, guilt, or anxiety, remind yourself: ● Taking a break doesn’t mean you’re lazy. ● Getting a good night’s sleep and taking time off is productive. ● You don’t need to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.
  5. Set boundaries for yourself. Check in with your values, and see how your boundaries align (or don’t align) with them. If you aren’t sure what your values are, check out this quiz. It’ll give you a better idea of what sort of boundaries you set for yourself, according to whether or not you’re living alongside them.● If one of your values is family, consider how much quality time you’re spending with them. If your productivity gets in the way of spending time with them, your boundary could be “No phone at the dinner table.”● If one of your values is physical health, but you don’t eat anything until 5 pm because you’re busy, your boundary could be “eat breakfast in the morning before doing anything else.”

The bottom line

There’s a fine line between being productive and having “busy” as one of your personality traits. Take this time to check in with yourself and release the things that aren’t serving you. Remember, balance is key.

Richard Kellow

Richard Kellow

Richard is a certified clinical hypnotherapist and Virtual Gastric Band Practitioner based in Rotorua in the gorgeous Bay of Plenty. With his personal experience and training from the UK, US, and New Zealand, Richard is a living testament to the power of hypnosis.

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