The Perils of Toxic Productivity

This article was written by Stephanie Chen.

Toxic Productivity

Even when I am not studying or working, I find myself thinking about it — how much time am I wasting by choosing not to work? When is the next essay deadline? How exactly will I accomplish everything I need to do? In any and all aspects of my life, the shadow of productivity does not escape me.

What is more, once I lose sight of my personal needs in an effort to maintain high levels of productivity, the desire to be constantly industrious slowly, yet surely, turns toxic.

The HuffPost defined toxic productivity as, “the unhealthy desire to be productive at all times, at all costs.”

The pervasive societal forces dictating us to be as productive and efficient as possible inescapably end up creating stress and pressure. People have needs other than being productive (in the most capitalistic of terms). That is why, even though society romanticizes the idea of work trumping all other aspects of one’s life, living a balanced lifestyle tends to be much more indicative of one’s overall satisfaction with life and themselves.

Hustle Culture

Hustle culture can be observed across social media. Think about all the videos on You Tube that stress motivation and the constant grinding as the keys to a “successful” life. Such an emphasis on continuous work without any regard for breaks or self-care along the way is at the very core of hustle culture.

Hustle culture, although effective and useful in certain situations, is ultimately unhealthy as a normalized lifestyle. To be immersed within work at all times is unsustainable given that other aspects of one’s life also demand one’s time and attention. Interpersonal relationships, for instance, might suffer when one is distracted by their workload in the company of their friends or loved ones. When one loses sleep over their work, their health suffers as well.

One’s ruthless emphasis on nothing but work eventually comes at a cost.

Effects of Toxic Productivity

To understand how detrimental toxic productivity can be to people’s mental and physical wellness, it is important to recognize its effects. The HuffPost explains that excessive or persistent fatigue, exhaustion, and guilt are all indicators of an unhealthy relationship with productivity. When these feelings become insurmountable, burnout may easily follow.

When someone focuses, solely, on their work and production, they may begin to disregard factors affecting their health, such as sleep, diet, and exercise. As stated before, relationships with other people could also decline due to an only-work mindset that forces people to neglect their social lives.

Similarly, toxic productivity may become a chronic stressor — a stressor that is long-lasting or constantly recurring over a period of time. The effects of chronic stress, as stated in an article by Healthline, may include anxiety, depression, higher blood-pressure, and increased risk for heart disease.

The effects of toxic productivity may also affect a person’s sense of self.

An expert clinical psychologist specializing in trauma and addiction, Dr. Joanne Barron, explained that contemporary American society forces people to value “productivity, wealth, achievement, doing and being more,…”, above all else. Ultimately, resulting in the distortion of one’s self image by extrinsic measures of worth and value.

What is more, the shame associated with “not-doing” could potentially lead to an array of unhealthy coping mechanisms and attempts to numb one’s negative feelings, such as binge-eating or even (almost ironically) procrastination.


Interestingly, as toxic productivity has become more prevalent in social media, self-care has also gained in popularity. Phenomenon that may indicate rising recognition of the harms of toxic productivity within the wider public.

Today, self-care is mostly understood as taking time to engage in activities such as yoga, meditation, and skincare routines. All of which are, undoubtedly, noteworthy routines. Yet, it is still essential to recognize that time dedicated to “taking care of oneself” ought to be used in truly beneficial ways. Not all activities provide instant gratification, but many help, enormously, in the long-term. For example — therapy.

The popularized version of self-care still has its benefits. However, it is crucial to communicate to oneself and others that responsibility, moderation, and self-reflection play just as important roles in self care and thus, tackling toxic productivity, as for example — skincare.

Redefining Productivity

Ultimately, productivity does not need to be toxic. As Jade Bowler explained on Ali Abdaal’s Deep Dive podcast, productivity ought to simply mean “time spent well”.

For that reason, we ought to normalize the view that, when an individual engages in rest and relaxation, they are, in fact, being just as productive as when spending time at their place of work. Even more so, we mustn’t attach the notion of self-worth to the arbitrary and often very ambiguous productivity “metrics”.

Rather, we should strive to cultivate or, better to say, become aware of our unconditional self-worth. As Brené Brown explained, we must understand that no matter what we accomplish (or don’t), we are inherently and indisputably enough.

“Worthiness is an as-is, here and now proposition.”

- Brené Brown, Oprah’s Life Class



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