Whether it’s the crushing grind of TPS reports in Office Space or Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp getting caught in the giant gears of Modern Times (watch both for free via Amazon) Hollywood has been portraying toxic workplaces since its inception.
If it seems like work has gotten into your veins to the point where you're never quite able to "turn it off," you're not alone. When going above and beyond costs you your health, your personal, or social life, something needs to change.
Unfortunately, this trend is all too common. It’s called toxic productivity.
Once you're aware of toxic productivity's impact on your life, you can take steps to reclaim a normal life.
What Is Toxic Productivity?
Toxic productivity is a growing problem for remote workers today. The boundaries between work and personal life have become blurred to where it's difficult to break away and take advantage of some self-focus.
People with a toxic productivity mindset feel like they need to constantly be doing something.
If you feel this way about things, you might feel guilty if you take a break. And when you have time off, you might find yourself unable to enjoy the time off because you're still too focused on "doing" something else.
What Do Psychologists Say?
Psychologists have documented toxic productivity very well, especially its effects on families. A Southern Management Association study, for example, found a correlation between constant connectivity and family difficulties.
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) formally identified burnout as a workplace issue that needs to be addressed -- and it’s only gotten worse in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The more burned-out an employee becomes, the less they have to give to everyone -- not just to their employer, but also to their family. Giving too much of yourself can have second-rate results.
As hard as it might be to believe, restorative rest is essential to working more productively. The better the quality of your rest, the better you'll work.
One thing many people don't realize is that their non-stop work is an avoidance strategy. When toxic productivity is an avoidance method, the effects of the avoidance linger in the background.
Often, when someone realizes their toxic productivity has become an avoidance issue, the issue that they're avoiding can become a major crisis.
How to Break Out of Toxic Productivity
As frustrating as toxic productivity is, you can break free from its influence.
One part of the equation is realizing that you don't need to take advantage of every opportunity to remain connected.
You can focus instead on managing your time so you can make a clean break with your work activities outside business hours.
We’ve compiled a list of suggestions for easing your way out of toxic productivity.
Schedule Work Breaks, Even at Home
Most of us have appointments and other commitments in addition to actual work hours. Another effect of this type of schedule is transitioning directly from work to personal time at the end of the day, with no buffer period.
However, 10-15 minute breaks in between work tasks will help, whether it involves a snack or prepping for your next task.
Establish Work and Personal Time Boundaries
Select a time each day that marks your separation from your work life, such as when your children or spouse come home.
Spending this time with family or friends or pursuing a favorite hobby helps make this time productive. Make it a point to go to bed relaxed and ready to face the next day refreshed.
Carve Out Daily and Weekly Free Time
You'll benefit from having daily or weekly time to "unplug." During this time, you'll want to focus on activities that focus entirely on leisure, like walking, practicing meditation, or simply spending some time in nature doing nothing.
Practice Professional Detachment
Professional detachment means ceasing to allow your job to define your core identity. Coming to an understanding that your career is one part of your life, rather than your entire existence, is an excellent way to keep you from struggling with burnout.
Choose Important Tasks Before Urgent But Trivial Tasks
Learning that importance and urgency are not the same thing is important for preventing burnout.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a helpful way of determining where a task or project falls on either the importance-urgency axis. Categorizing everything appropriately will help you sort out your priorities.
Can Journaling Help With Toxic Productivity?
Journaling is an excellent way to work on getting rid of toxic productivity. For example, keeping a journal gives you time to discern how to deal with a work-related challenge.
Writing down personal observations about why you react as you do when there is a need to fill at work can help you spot problems with delegation.
Sometimes the best course of action in a situation is not action at all. You'll have greater peace of mind by realizing that it's okay to say no sometimes when your help is not required.
Take some time to carefully think about some outcomes you would like to see and write about them. Although your journal can be a good place to write about your frustrations, writing about ways you can provide a positive outcome is also worthy of your time.
Your journal is also a great place for an action plan.
You can also use your journal as a way to hold yourself accountable. When you're already struggling with toxic productivity, there might be a temptation to use the journal the same way as other productivity tools.
However, keeping your journal separate from your work activities will give you a clearer perspective.
Toxic productivity, or an inability to separate work and personal life, is a sad reality for many remote workers.
However, there are ways you can overcome this mentality and perform as you need to personally and professionally -- and writing in your journal is an effective way to get started.
Toni Allen has over two decades of experience running online businesses with a focus on technical publications. She has contributed to well-known websites such as Digital.com, NewsweekEspanol.com, Sitepoint.com and many others.