Toxic Productivity: Our obsession with working

Evelyn Martinez completes homework assignments. Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
(Photo illustration by: Nicole Sabot)
Evelyn Martinez completes homework assignments. Wednesday, September 22, 2021. (Photo illustration by: Nicole Sabot)

It’s kind of ironic that I’m writing an article on the balance between productivity and enjoying life, because as this is being written, I am at my friend’s house with my face behind my laptop. 

I am being productive instead of spending time with friends because I procrastinated on an article. The larger part of me knows this isn’t the end of the world, and that in the future, I’ll try not to make the same mistake. But a small, unforgiving, inner voice isn’t so understanding. This voice is telling me that I’m too lazy. It says that I spend too much time relaxing or going out with friends.

And, although it is true that I could’ve managed my time better and finished this article on time, what isn’t true is what that inner voice is telling me. The truth is that putting off one assignment doesn’t automatically make me lazy. The truth is that relaxing, going out with friends and enjoying life are just as important to me as finishing assignments and getting work done. 

Don’t get me wrong; getting things done and working hard are both vital to setting your future self up for success. However, enjoying your life as it is, right now, is vital to living a fulfilling life.

Toxic productivity attaches our self-worth to our productivity levels. It’s the energy that validates the phrase, “The grind never stops.” Hate to break it to you, but if the grind doesn’t eventually stop, things like your sleep schedule, exercise and hobbies start to be neglected in the name of productivity. When these things are neglected, burn out is essentially inevitable. 

The sneaky thing about toxic productivity is that it hides behind the facade of just being incredibly hard-working or good at taking initiative. Therefore, it’s not always easy to recognize when you’ve fallen victim. A medically reviewed article on gives insight on how toxic productivity may be impacting your life. Here are some ways to tell whether or not you are affected by it:

You still feel anxious or antsy after you’ve finished everything you need to do. 

You can’t do things without a “purpose,” like go for a walk, paint for fun, or anything else with “no point.”

Success doesn’t give you a feeling of satisfaction or accomplishment.

Your standards for yourself are so high that you find yourself holding the people around you and even strangers up to the same standard.

And whether you are in a toxic relationship with work or not, here are some ways to detoxify or avoid falling victim all together:

  1. Do nothing. Literally force yourself to set aside time to do nothing. Stare at the clouds. Go for a walk. Journal or meditate. Do something with no “point” in mind.
  2. Recognize the emotions that you might be covering up with productivity. Often, people throw themselves into work or school as a coping mechanism for other things going on in their lives. If this is the case, it is important to process those emotions properly and seek help if needed.
  3. Write down a list of your values and priorities in life (not your goals). What is actually important to you, and are your actions lining up with the values you wrote down?

It’s time for us to recognize the damaging effects of hustle culture and take the necessary steps to take care of ourselves. The habits surrounding work that we develop now sets the foundation for our future selves. Remember to work hard, but not to the point where you can hardly work.

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