Catchphrases like ‘work hard, party harder,’ ‘seize the day,’ ‘you snooze you lose,’ ‘go hard or go home’ have made their way into our daily vocabulary as a way to motivate us to strive for more and emphasise the relentless need for productivity, resulting in ‘hustle mania’. Hustle Culture has become a prevalent mindset which advocates that overworking yourself to clock in extra hours is the only way to succeed, even at the cost of one’s wellbeing, physical and Mental Health, and this is the real danger it poses.
Toxic productivity is when we try to schedule maximum output for every moment of our day. For instance, we try to fill every moment with back-to- back meetings, calls, projects, research and tasks which little or no time for breaks, because breaks and pauses are viewed as hindrances to productivity. This ideology assumes that we can always perform at our best and that we must do all that we can to pack our days with as much as we can. The problem with this extreme obsession with productivity is that it is a never-ending quest and no matter how much is accomplished, it is never enough. It is an obsession with work where more matters, even if the quality is not exactly great. This chase can become so overwhelming and preoccupying that we can only see our self-worth in terms of the amount of work we are doing. However, if we try to think of where this stems from, we can largely attribute this mindset to a culture that praises and rewards productivity but doesn’t tell us where to draw the line. This piece will explore some of the signs of recognising toxic productivity and ways in which we can cope with it if we are falling prey to this behaviour.
Productivity is addicting and toxic productivity be difficult to spot, and we may be resistant to recognizing it in ourselves. That’s because the rush we get from achieving things is psychologically addicting. When we accomplish a task, our brain gets a hit of dopamine which brings us pleasure, and being in a state of constantly focussing on achieving things can cause us to experience elevated levels of adrenaline as well. Over time, your body develops a tolerance and needs more dopamine and adrenaline to deliver the initial rush, and in this way, toxic productivity can behave almost like an addiction.
When it comes to recognising the signs of toxic productivity, the first step is to recognise that you do have a problem. You may opt to look out for red flags like: Do you have a lot of work-related guilt? Do you often feel like you should be doing more, and that if you’re not doing something, you’re wasting your time? Toxic Productivity can take a toll on your Mental Health and leave you feeling more anxious, depressed or restless on most days. You may also find yourself forgetting obligations and personal responsibilities like the birthday of a loved one, getting a good night’s sleep, skipping workouts or not having your meals. You may also find yourself having unrealistic expectations from yourself in terms of your goals and the time you need to achieve certain tasks. You may also find your relationships being strained as you may not be fully present when interacting with others or might be alienating those closest to you. Toxic productivity can also lead you to feeling on the verge of burnout, feeling more exhausted, less energetic and less focussed, but being away from work might leaving you feeling guilt-ridden or having a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Finding yourself constantly preoccupied with work, living in a PAID reality (pressured, always-on, information overload and distractible) and attaching your self-worth to the hours worked and output generated are also signs to look for.
While Toxic Productivity can be dangerous and take a toll on us, there is hope in that there are ways in which we can cope with this trap laid by Hustle Culture and come out of it. A few ways in which we can do this are:
Mindfulness is a great way to help us connect to ourselves and the present moment. Mindfulness invites us to observe and accept what is happening around us and within us without judgement and use that to influence our thoughts going ahead. We learn to be more aware of our body and needs and work towards prioritising them. This can be very helpful to help us disconnect from our constant ‘fight or flight’ instinct of being always on high alert and jumping from one task to another. Instead, it equips us with the ability to build more healthy ways to connect with the world around us and be more aware of the context around us when we set our goals.
Take Breaks and prioritise Self-Care.
Rest is not a four-letter word or something just for the weak, it is vital for all of us to be able to remain healthy and thrive. There are also studies which show that those who take breaks end up being more productive than people who don’t. It is important to make a conscious effort to get ‘ME-Time’ everyday where you focus on activities which bring you joy and have nothing to do with your work. You may choose to journal, doodle, look at the clouds, take a walk, meditate or even get a nap. More than how you spend this time, what matters is that you take this time our for yourself to allow yourself the time and space to reset, relax and rest.
Set healthy boundaries.
It is imperative that you actively strive to set (or rework) the boundaries you have around work and enforce them so that you can take care of your own Mental Health and wellbeing. You may choose to establish some baseline boundaries such as no cell phones at the dinner table, no working more than 3 hours at a stretch without a break, no more than 40 hours of work a week, nothing less than 6 hours of sleep a night etc.
Watch your self-talk.
Do you base your self-worth based on your productivity and number of hours clocked in in the day? If so, you may find yourself getting caught up in a cycle of chasing accomplishments that give you a temporary sense of worth, and once that wears off you need yet another accomplishment to make you feel valuable. This will put you in a never ending quest to be productive and in the long run, this can be more damaging to your overall Mental Health, physical health and wellbeing as you also risk putting yourself on the path to exhaustion and burnout. To heal your self-talk, it is beneficial to start seeing that your value is not in what you produce or accomplish, but in who you are.
Talk to someone and Seek Help.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, distress or unable to cope, it can help to speak to someone you trust - this can be a loved one, a helpline or a Mental Health professional. You can seek professional help to better cope and manage your schedule and wellbeing. You may also choose to use some apps like Headspace which can help you take care of your wellbeing through this time.
It is important to remember that there is a fine line between what is good for us and what isn't, and this applies to the concept of productivity as well. In a society which glorifies output fueled by the constant comparisons on social media and a need to ‘keep up with the neighbours’, there is a significant rise in toxic productivity, which is often masked under the pretext of hustle culture. This is having a detrimental impact on us and our Mental Health. Instead of constantly pushing ourselves, what we can all use more of is the realisation and acknowledgement of the idea that taking breaks and pausing needs to be normalised. We need to be okay with the fact that sometimes, it is okay to not do anything at all because, in that particular moment, that is exactly what our body and minds need.
Written by: Yash Mehrotra
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