Recognizing Toxic Productivity

Let’s talk about toxic productivity.

Last week, I had one of my best friends since childhood as a guest on the 1N5 of Us podcast. She’s a clinical psychology doctoral student, and she brought up the idea of toxic productivity. This concept is one I’d heard of before but hadn’t thought too deeply about.

Essentially, toxic productivity is the concept that we value being productive over everything else. As my friend put it, when someone is experiencing toxic productivity, they’d rather work themselves to death than fail at a task.

Of course, work is valuable, and being productive is important to make sure you get your work done, but toxic productivity can be extremely harmful.

After reading more about toxic productivity, I realized I’ve had an issue with it for quite some time. I’ve brushed it off as perfectionism and manic episodes, but the reality is I’m terrified of not succeeding. I’ve defined my self-worth by what I’ve accomplished. Between work and starting to get back into fitness, I base so much of what I do on impressing others and “going the extra mile.” I don’t take days off, and if I physically can’t do something I feel like I should be doing, I feel guilty.

This line of thinking is called toxic productivity for a reason. The toxicity of believing that every moment of every day needs to be productive is so harmful to my mental health. If I take time for myself, if I don’t do that extra bit of work to stand out from others, I find myself looking back and regretting not doing more.

One of my coaches at OrangeTheory actually helped me recognize that I have an issue with toxic productivity. In class, he said something along the lines of, “Your best today might not be your best yesterday. What matters is that you showed up, and you made that decision.” He’s said that a few times, but the last time really hit home. He was, of course, speaking in terms of fitness and actually coming to class. Even though it wasn’t about life outside of class, it made me think about how I often do things in comparison with others rather than in comparison with myself. I push myself so hard to prove something, but I don’t even know what I’m proving. In life, I’m always competing to be better, even if I don’t realize it. It’s not me I’m trying to beat, though. Rather, it’s an idea of me that I think others want me to be.

At some point, pushing myself so hard for so long to beat some unrealistic, unattainable idea of who I should be will inevitably break me. There have been moments where the pressure I put on myself has almost overcome me, and that’s more terrifying than failing a menial task.

We only have one life to live, and at the end of mine, I want to look back and remember all the moments I enjoyed doing what I want to do rather than what I think others want me to do.

I don’t exactly know how to beat toxic productivity yet, but that’s okay. I recognize it’s there and it’s an issue, and recognizing an issue is the first step to overcoming it. In the future, I’m sure I’ll talk more about my journey in beating toxic productivity, but for now, I’m going to take a break and let myself relax for a bit. If any of what I’ve talked about here resonates with you, I suggest you take some time to rest and relax, too. You deserve it.

As always, stay safe + stay healthy.


Kayla W