Toxic productivity has seeped into the corporate world and has resulted in mental health crises and burnouts.
Society has conditioned us to always try our best and reach our full potential. While striving for self-improvement is commendable, it has led to the blurring of lines between work and personal life. The 8-hour workday has become 10, 12, or even 16+ hours with an "always-on" work culture that leaves no time for relaxation or personal pursuits.
We now associate being busy with success, and those who never stop working are labeled as workaholics. The pressure to be productive has created a burden that we carry with us daily. We feel guilty when we haven't completed all our tasks or when we choose to relax instead of working. This has led to the rise of toxic productivity in the Western world, fuelled by constant connectivity via mobile phones, the internet, and the hustle culture.
So what's the antidote to Toxic Productivity?
This is probable one of the hardest things to do and will continue to be a challenge for me and my biggest life lesson. It means realising that you are not always in control and letting go of trying to control every situation. It means choosing your battles and the cross you want to bear, instead of bearing everything.
Letting go means making friends with fear. And that's no easy feat. Practice asking yourself what the worst thing is that could happen? And either plan for that or accept it and move forward.
2. Be gentle with yourself
Another aspect of my personality that I battle with, along with so many others. The fear of failure is a tough burden to bear, but there comes a time that if you don't cut. yourself some slack, your self esteem will continue to spiral down and you will find yourself in a hole that will be difficult to climb out of.
Practice saying to yourself daily something like this, "Although I didn't make this deadline, I am getting better with time management" or "Although I didn't work out 7 days this week, I managed to do 4 days and that's better than nothing."
I'm getting better is a very powerful statement to use when you're about to deride yourself.
Stop multi-tasking! Just stop. Please!
Your brain will thank you, your manager or team will thank you and your family will too. You'll be able to finish so many more tasks instead of leaving countless tasks unfinished, which leaves you feeling like a failure or drooling at the mouth from the cognitive decline you'll be suffering.
Become aware of when you're flitting around from task to task. Keep your to-do list clutched to you every moment of your work day. This is a great way to stay on task.
Close the multiple apps that ping off your phone, close email and the countless browser tabs you have open. Stop the madness! Eliminate the multiple notifications and distractions and stick ruthlessly to a pruned down To-Do list with 3 top priorities for the day.
Finish those and move onto the next 3 priorities. Communicate and renegotiate deadlines with people if tasks on your lists are slipping. Be a proactive communicator and a single-task like a champion! Trust me on this.
4. Take control of your social media habits
I find that if I stay off LinkedIn, I tend to have a better frame of mind and stop comparing myself to others that are "slaying" their productivity. Then you have the dangerous "comparisonitis" territory of TikTok and Instagram, where reels and videos flash the latest and greatest "productivity" hacks.
The irony is not lost on me either as The Productivity Mentor that my content promotes these tips and hacks. But when they are used to flirt dangerously with a culture of overwork and doing more for the sake of being busy, you won't find me promoting that content.
Limit the number of hours you spend on social media per day. Monitor your media habits, leave your device in another room, try to become aware of when you're mindlessly scrolling or compulsively searching social media to follow more gurus, subscribe to more newsletters and use it as a way of not feeling good enough about yourself.
5. Prioritise rest
Ask yourself how you honestly feel about resting and sleeping. Are you beating yourself up because you slept too long (maybe you slept 5 hours instead of the 4 you planned to sleep). Does this sound familiar? To some people, this is a rod they use to beat themselves up with.
Do you ever just sit and stare into space? Try sit in a comfortable position and give yourself permission to relax. Even for 10 minutes. Become aware of what pops in your mind and realise that it doesn't need to be acted on at that exact second. Think your thought and let it float away. Keep doing this and see whether this expands your awareness, creativity or relaxation.
Please question whether you've been conditioned to think about resting as a sign of weakness or laziness. Then ask yourself whether that's true? Sit with the uncomfortable feelings around rest, taking a holiday, meditation or just sleeping and journal what comes up for you.
6. Talk to your loved ones
If you realise while reading this that you show many of these signs of overwork or workaholism, and if you can, confide on your a close friend or your loved ones. Ask them for constructive feedback and listen to what they've noticed and how your workaholism affects them. Now what can you do to change that?
7. Seek help
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of courage, strength and taking responsibility for your precious life. You are worth having someone listen to you and help you through this. Find a therapist of a coach to listen and guide you through the challenges you're having around switching off, setting boundaries or cutting back.
8. Get your body moving, gently.
You may be working out many times a week or you may be working so hard that you hardly know what it feels like to move your body any more. And with that comes the accompanying aches, pains and general fatigue.
Change scenery and take a walk outside, gently reminding yourself how incredible you are, what a difference you make in this world and how precious your life is. Notice the scenery around you. Rewire your brain and boost your endorphins.
9. Set better boundaries
If you're suffering burnout form trying to be everything to everyone then it's time to take a step back.
Realise that you CANNOT be everything to everyone. It's just.not.possible!
Boundaries are necessary to maintain structure in your life and protect you from demands that may not be healthy for you.
You have various roles that you play in life. This could be caring for your kids as a mother, being a wife, managing a team, being a friend or a daughter.
List these roles and the tasks expected from you or associated with these roles.
Then highlight the ones that fill you with absolute dread. What is being demanded of you here?
Then highlight the ones where you are absolutely and critically needed. What is being demanded of you here?
Then highlight the ones that bring you the most joy. What is being demanded of you here?
Where are the intersections?
Look at the tasks that fill you with dread and ask yourself why? Then make a plan to talk to your coach or therapist about these tasks and formulate a plan to have difficult conversations with these people in your life, or reframe the tasks or cut them out altogether.
Reciprocally what is your plan for doing more of the things that you love, within the constraints of the time you have available?
Lastly, remember to filter the incoming tasks and requests through this lens and understand that No is actually a complete sentence. And that's OK. Anyone having a problem with this word is not your problem.
10. Celebrate progress
Instead of focusing on your glass as being half full or the tasks not achieved for that day, rather focus on what has been achieved and give yourself some credit for how hard you're working. don't use your To-Do list as a way to beat up on yourself. Find ways to acknowledge your journey instead of always pursuing the eventual end destination. Because what is that actually?
11. Ruthlessly prioritise
Harvard Business Review research found that people typically prioritise tasks with the shortest deadlines, without evaluating whether they were important or impactful. There is never a shortage of tasks to do or ideas flowing.
The idea behind ruthless prioritisation means that you only work on the most important ideas or tasks based on their impact in your life or the project.
This allows you to cut out the noise and the stuff that keeps you busy for the sake of it. But it needs discipline and possibly even an impartial sounding board like a coach or friend.
It's finally time to rethink what it means to be productive and who are we being productive for. Also whether what we're doing has any real impact and whether it's time to evaluate whether our physical and mental health can take this onslaught any longer.
If you realise you have a problem, seek help from a mental health therapist to talk through your feelings or work with a coach to help discern what's really necessary and where you can take proactive steps before you burn out completely.
My one hope for you is that you realise that this is unsustainable and if you do, then what steps are you taking to change this situation. Even if you're not clear right now on a way forward, talking to someone impartial can help you disentangle yourself from this life that you've made and help you find joy once again working towards the dreams and goals that are most important to you.