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What Is Toxic Productivity and How Can I Avoid It?

It is time to let go of Toxic Productivity - here is how!

As someone committed to self-improvement and professional development, I easily fall prey to toxic productivity. This unhealthy pattern was most recently revealed while working on vacation. I was ahead on my personal and professional to-do list and alerted the necessary people I would be offline and out of touch. However, I found myself up at 7:00 AM on the second day of vacation, checking working emails and working on getting ahead on non-urgent personal items.

When we are fixated on self-improvement, we can easily risk venturing into toxic productivity and burnout. Trying to be productive or excel in all areas of one's life can negatively impact us mentally and physically. If this sounds like you or someone you love, here are the signs someone is stuck in the vicious cycle of toxic productivity and what you can do now to stop it.

What is Toxic Productivity?

Productivity is the measurement of productive effort in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. The definition of toxic productivity is an unhealthy and extreme obsession with being productive and one's desire for productivity at all times and at the expense of other priorities like rest, relaxation, or time with friends.

Many dynamics can cause toxic productivity - some examples are below

  1. Desire to become more recognized, superior, or more accomplished. Example: consistently taking on additional projects at work when bandwidth is already limited.

  2. Need to focus on small things within one's control when your environment sends unstable and beyond one's control. Example: taking on small projects at work if your home life seems unstable.

  3. Feeling of one's worth being dependent on action dedicated/done to someone else. Example: moms or parents feel like they always have to do something for their kids.

  4. Tool to distract one from internal battles. Example: Exerting all of your energy into being productive while internally experiencing a stream of dark thoughts or feelings leading to you feeling burnt out.

Signs of Toxic Productivity

To help you identify toxic productivity behavior in yourself or loved ones, check out the below the top signs:

  1. Feeling like a failure if you are not busy or productive.

  2. Tying self-worth to productivity levels or goal completion

  3. Plagued with guilt when you are relaxing or on vacation

  4. Consistently pushes yourself self past exhaustion/burnout.

  5. Extreme fatigue and lack of motivation

  6. Increased anxiety when you are not busy

How To Combat Toxic Productivity?

Now that you know the signs of suffering from toxic productivity, let's discuss how to combat it.

Set and Be Strict About Self-Care Days

Boundaries help you monitor your own behavior and create a healthy structure for your life. Identify patterns and habits that contribute to your toxic productivity and create boundaries to combat the behavior. This may look like this:

  • No cell phones while at social events.

  • Taking a break after three hours of steady work.

  • Set aside specific days/times to spend with your partner, kids, family.

  • Set a "do not disturb: function at night to get at least seven hours of sleep.

  • Schedule your meals to ensure you eat at least twice a day.

Limit Social-Media And Screen-Time

Social media and electronics can play a big part in our proximity to toxic productivity culture.

Electronics present the ability to communicate in so many ways directly at our fingertips and open the door to Social Media, which can leave us feeling guilty and depressed as to why we are not doing as much as others are doing.

The two combined can quickly make us feel lazy, unaccomplished, or satisfied with our present life. This, combined with the increased focus on self-care and productivity, can exacerbate those feelings, leaving us overwhelmed and in a fragile mental state.

If you find yourself constantly scrolling through your social media news feed and feeling guilty about how much you have not accomplished, try limiting your activity to one hour a day. If you are having trouble finding activities to do in place of social media, check out 30 things to do instead of scrolling through social media.

Give Yourself Permission To Rest

Understanding that rest is more productive than unnecessarily overextending oneself will help fight patterns of toxic productivity. Spending more time resting not only boosts creativity and the ability to problem-solve, but it also makes the time spent on work more efficient.

If you have trouble resting or doing nothing, try leaning into spending time actively resting by journaling, going for walks, or socializing with friends and family.

Talk To A Therapist

Seeing a therapist or mental health professional is a healthy and productive way of prioritizing your mental health if things become overwhelming.

A therapist offers unbiased, empathic, objective, and non-judgmental guidance to help you achieve your desired healthy lifestyle and mental health and improve emotional skills and responses.

If you do not have a therapist or are not ready to commit, try a therapy app or therapist-led group support app.


Letting go of toxic productivity has become one of my top 2022 goals. Share how you plan to avoid toxic productivity culture in the comments!

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