Have you succumbed to the cycle of toxic productivity?

Whether you call it hustle culture, grind culture, rise ‘n’ grind life, toil glamor or by its original name workaholism, toxic productivity is an easy trap to fall into. Think about it – we’ve been told that productivity and success are completely interrelated. Do you want to advance your career, earn more money and become a better, smarter and tougher person? Optimize your agenda, multitask, get up earlier, stay up later and put enough time into the weekend. Caffeine and dominate!

There are 1,440 minutes in each day. The grind culture tells us to always be “on” and squeeze every drop of productivity out of every smelly one. People who have slipped headlong into the rise ‘n’ grind life brag about overtime, work on vacation, don’t take breaks – not even to exercise or sleep. Good nutrition? Who has time for that?

This crazy way of life comes in and out of fashion, and today it is very much in vogue. It’s a terribly unhealthy way to work, though, and there’s a growing movement to counterbalance the toxic productivity dogma we’re all bombarded with.

This counter-movement is called rest culture. Its de facto leader is a woman named Tricia Hersey, whose social media platform, The Nap Ministry, is dedicated to disrupting and pushing back capitalism (and racism). Her book, Rest is resistance: a manifesto, asks what it would be like to live in a well-equipped world and sheds illuminating light on our tendency to confuse our productivity with our worth. She says: “Rest, in its simplest form, becomes an act of defiance and reclaiming power because it affirms our most fundamental humanity. We are enough. The systems can’t have us.”

If you’ve been a victim of toxic productivity, you probably know it by now. It’s not a foregone conclusion to let it tighten its grip and claim you as the victim – you can learn to stop rushing and rest.

Does this appeal to you? You may be stuck in a toxic productivity mindset. Here are some ways to tell:

You are very tired. How much energy do you have when you wake up? Do you feel refreshed and ready for the day, or do you wake up tired? Tiredness and exhaustion in the morning is not normal, nor is it healthy or sustainable.

Peacock about your overtime. Do you feel the need to crow about your crazy schedule? Is it part of your personality to put on a bit of a show in front of co-workers touting your constant, relentless, super-hard work?

Zooming and jargon. If you insist on a Zoom meeting when an email (or phone call) will suffice, or if you use tons of jargon, you’re effectively doubling the length of a conversation for fear that being concise will make you look lazy, you might want to think about why.

Debt. Constant guilt about what you should be doing (or what you didn’t do), to the point of not allowing yourself to rest or even take a lunch break, is a red flag.

Grumpiness with those you love. The toxic productivity cycle is an exhausting hamster wheel. It can make you feel trapped and powerless, which in turn can lead you to lash out at people you care about.

You don’t take care of yourself. Are you forgoing sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition in favor of always being “on” and pushing yourself to go-go-go? You guessed it: that’s toxic productivity.

Imposter syndrome. The feeling of being an impostor who is quickly discovered and/or fails unless he or she works non-stop can quickly turn into a toxic productivity trap.

You are on the verge of burnout. Do you feel like you’re about to burst? That is impending burnout. Some other signs include anxiety, aches and pains without a physical cause and a negative mindset.

If reading this article feels like looking into a mirror, you’ll want to take action. You don’t have to work like that. It will eventually make you sick, affect your relationships and damage your mental well-being.

If you’re stuck in a pattern of unhealthy behavior, it may seem impossible to get out of it, but you can. Constant grinding is neither healthy nor sustainable.

Here are some ways to break the toxic productivity cycle:

Taking breaks. Determine a work/break ratio. What feels good? For some, a break after two hours of solid work feels good. Others may prefer 30 minutes of work followed by a five minute break. Whatever you decide, your ratio should be, stick to it like your health depends on it.

Eat real meals. Not at your desk. Plan to have at least two good, healthy meals every day. Work your way to three.

Don’t zoom in too much. Whenever you can, schedule your meetings with 15-minute breaks in between. It allows you to reset your mind, stretch, chat with a friend, play with your cat or prepare for your next meeting.

Use your free time. Did your team just push hard to meet a big deadline? Schedule a day off. And use it to rest and recharge. Take a few days off and do what you enjoy: walking, reading, taking a nap, unplugging. If you can’t take a day or two, make your weekends count. Be aware of your time: Fight the urge to open your laptop and get to work. Instead, turn on a movie, meet friends for a meal, or sit on a park bench and do absolutely nothing.

Get out of your mind. Your boss may love your dedication and results, but chances are they don’t care (or notice) whether it took you 30 hours or 60 hours to complete the task. In other words, if you think your boss is mentally basking in the comforting glow of your always-on laptop screen, you’re probably wrong.

Learn to distinguish. Not everything is a crisis that only you can solve. If something comes up, ask yourself: If I think about this for 24 hours before taking action, what’s the worst that could happen?

Choose your action consciously. Your action is not required in every situation. Be picky about when you are the person to intervene. This helps set boundaries for you and also gives others the space to learn how to solve problems.

Talk to an expert. If you’re struggling to break the cycle of toxic productivity, it may be rooted for you in something deeper than habits, such as low self-esteem or trauma. Now is the time to contact a professional. Find a therapist who specializes in anxiety or perfectionism – those tend to overlap with toxic productivity.

Have you succumbed to the cycle of toxic productivity?

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