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Signs You Have Fallen Into Toxic Productivity Culture: How to Do Nothing Again

Woman working at desk practicing toxic productivit

We've been taught since childhood that "doing" is good. It can sometimes feel like if you aren't getting things done you are falling behind, or lazy, or unambitious. In our toxic work culture, "doing" is often easier than"not doing," because doing nothing often comes along with some uncomfortable guilt. 

Keeping the email inbox open 24/7, working overtime, and being sleep-deprived have almost become normalized, and even romanticized in some cases. However, while constantly feeling productive can provide relief in the moment, it could be the road to burnout. Here are some signs that you could be falling into a toxic productivity trap, and how to get out of it. 

You feel bad about not working all the time. 

If you find yourself feeling guilty for not working even outside of your work hours, or when one workday isn't as productive as the next, you may be putting too much pressure on yourself. For some people, this pressure does not come from themselves, but from someone else, such as managers, bosses, or just general workplace standards etc. If that's the case, you may be overworked, which could mean it might be time to advocate for yourself.

You look for activities with a purpose instead of enjoyment

This need to always be productive can bleed into our hobbies and free time too, to the point that trying to do an activity without a clear purpose or outcome can be difficult. When I first started crocheting, I remember spending hours on a hat that ended up being a complete failure, and I felt so guilty about it. There was nothing to show for my time, my hours of work, so I might as well have been doing nothing. When did we start thinking like this? And when did doing nothing become so bad? Always feeling like we have to do goal-oriented activities, and feeling guilty for everything else gets in the way of enjoyment. 

Just remember: you don't have to run a marathon, you don't have to crochet a sweater, you don't have to figure out a way to turn your hobby into a side hustle. The most productive thing you can do with your free time is to enjoy it.

Feelings of burnout. 

If you often feel exhausted, unmotivated, and like you can't ever do enough, you could be feeling burnt out. Anyone can feel burnt out, whether you just came off a 70-hour work week, drained from studying or even socializing, or have skipped out on self-care one too many times, there's no criteria, and everyone experiences burnout differently. 

How you can step out of this cycle

Pulling yourself out of the toxic productivity mindset can be difficult, especially when it's so ingrained into our work culture. Being intentional about taking back your time and energy might feel uncomfortable at first, but your mental health will thank you in the long run. 

  1. Try to set work-life boundaries: If you are a manager, this could look like talking to your team at exact times when the workday starts and ends so there is no expectation to be online while off the clock. For employees, this could look like turning off notifications for work emails and messages while outside of work hours so you don't feel compelled to respond. 

  2. Schedule rest time: Just like how you schedule time for work, eating, and sleeping, schedule a time during your day, even if it's just 20 minutes at first, to do something for yourself. Sometimes actually writing the breaks into your calendar can be helpful. 

  3. Spend time with friends and family: When we are with others, we often are focused on just enjoying their company. If you feel like you can't relax, being with other people where you are forced to be in the moment together and "do nothing," can be helpful. 



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