What is toxic productivity? And 5 tips to overcome it 

Being a creator can be one of the most intensive career pursuits, especially when things are just getting started. 

Although it’s important to work hard on what matters, you also need to know where that line of too much is so that you steer clear of it and avoid falling into burnout.  

Writer Dave Schafer offers the following perspective. 

Toxic productivity is a mindset that manifests as the need to constantly “do.” You may feel that you can’t rest or take any downtime. And when you’re forced to, you can’t turn your mind off and enjoy it—you’re too busy worrying about what else you “should” do.

A few of their recommended remedies include using the Eisenhower Matrix to let go of unimportant urgent tasks, block out time daily for walks and meditation, and establish boundaries with consequences when they’re not followed. 

Getting out of overworking is possible. Let’s explore a few ways to overcome onerous overwork.

1. Productivity on Focus on what’s important (not just what’s urgent)

It’s way too easy to go through the day being pulled from fire to fire and urgent task to urgent task. In the rush to get everything done, we end up focusing only on other people’s priorities and forget about our own. Even worse, it can feel like there’s nothing you can do about it.

2. Productivity on Practice professional detachment

This might be a new term in your vocabulary. However, it’s also one of the most powerful things you can do to break free of toxic productivity and avoid burnout. 

Coined by Laurie Ruettimann, “professional detachment” is defined as an understanding that your role at work is not the core of your identity. The idea is that you can be productive and committed without your whole life and sense of self-worth revolving around your job. 

How do you get there? Start by understanding that you are not your job. Your career is just one part of your life. If you miss the mark on something at work, it doesn’t reflect your worth as a person. Perspective is everything.

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3. Productivity on Schedule time to do nothing

Take some time each day (or, if that’s not possible, each week) to shut off completely. Here are some ideas:

  • Go for a walk with no destination in mind.
  • Meditate.
  • Lie in the grass and watch the clouds float by.
  • Go birdwatching.

These activities are purposefully unproductive. You’re only doing them for their own sake, rather than to achieve some larger goal. Over time, you can counteract the constant need to be “productive.”

The unplugging part is also key. Turn off your phone. Close your laptop. Take off your smartwatch. The lack of interruptions helps you be more mindful and focused. It can be a little jarring if you’re used to always being “on.” However, once you get used to it, you’ll never want to go back.

4. Set clear boundaries between work time and personal time

Restore your work-life balance by picking a point of separation from work time to private time and sticking to it. Maybe it’s a time on the clock. Maybe it’s when your kids get home. Or maybe it’s the start of an evening class at the gym.

What should you do instead? Spend time with your family, practice a favorite hobby, or get a little extra sleep. Come back to work refreshed and rejuvenated, rather than stressed and depressed.

Don’t neglect your boundaries at work, either. Establishing boundaries with your team is important for a healthy work environment. It’s too easy to let coworkers walk all over you (whether intentionally or not) without them.

5. Build breaks into your schedule

Your calendar is probably crammed with meetings and appointments—an average of 62 per month, in fact. Most folks try to squeeze their actual work into the scant few hours that remain. Then we leave work and jump right into an equally-packed personal life. 

To help combat toxic productivity, take a moment and look for opportunities to pad your calendar. Add 10- or 15-minute buffers before and after meetings to give you time to prepare and decompress. Enjoy a coffee break. Or take inspiration from the French and enjoy a proper lunch. 

Whatever your preferred break, take one to manage your energy and avoid wearing yourself out and actually increase your productivity.

Remember, creativity is a long game so stack the cards in your favor by crafting a sustainable path forward.

Collins Kiprono
Collins Kiprono

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