Are you Suffering From Toxic Productivity?

Do you ever feel like you are constantly apologising for taking time to do things?

Only me? I must have been spending too much time in England, then. I was talking to a peer yesterday as we were about to record a video interview, and she pointed out how, in the past three weeks, everyone has been walking around with a weird fight or flight attitude.

As a productivity guinea pig, I should say to you that I love finding ways to work more efficiently, and that is true. Yet, I am also embracing a very silent revolution that is encouraging people to make more space. As I looked at my questionable working hours over the past 3 months, I realised that feeling of accomplishment had become almost a saving grace for me. Yet, accomplishing nothing sometimes is an accomplishment in itself.

We need to consciously remind ourselves that time to do nothing is precious. Time to just be. Maybe have a nap. Or listen to music. Or get bored out of our eye sockets.

By one estimate, somewhere between 17% and 53% of adults have experienced relaxation-induced anxiety at some point. It’s not that they can’t relax at all, it’s that doing so quickly brings on feelings of anxiety.

Yes, you read it right. People are getting anxious about doing nothing. On one hand, I am all for to-do lists, management systems and team meetings. On the other hand, we are so obsessed with the best way to hack our days we forget to make space for the unexpected.  Part of me is quite grateful for the rise of interest in self-help since my books fall into that category, yet the obsession with becoming more and more efficient can get out of hand.

“Joining a Facebook Group about creative productivity is like buying a chair about jogging”, once said Merlin Mann (and yes, it kinda hurts a little).

Our lives can feel planned to the minute, and that stops us from tapping into the magic of spontaneity. 

With our “always-on” state of being and devotion to hustle culture, we tend to feel bad when we have a little time to dedicate to ourselves, and this guilt spans generations.

Here are a few things I am looking to avoid falling into the trap myself.

Hire an assistant

I think hiring an assistant is an art. Still, having someone that can organise your life and be on top of the shiny distractions to help make my days a bit more spacious. Also, the fact I can ask her to harass people on my behalf via email is in itself a massive bonus. Outsourcing can help you identify your zone of genius and help you get better organised.

Consciously create space in the calendar

Buffer time is introduced with the premise that as humans, we are not necessarily always the best at guessing and estimating. This is because it’s hard to micro-manage ourselves, especially when working from home. We aren’t making the right guess at how long each task will take because of a planning fallacy, which means we tend to underestimate the time it takes to do something.

Review the way you work

Periodically evaluating your way of working can be beneficial. Still, I would do it quarterly or on a six-monthly basis. Weekly changes to your apps and systems can also become a very sneaky way to micro-manage my day and head back into the toxicity productivity cycle. 

All in all, I am in no way perfect. That vibe that screams “look at me, I got it all figured out” and many productivity gurus (yuck, that word) used to attract and retain readers is what I often associate with toxic productivity. While some productivity writers may have achieved certain results, it is deceiving to pretend there is a step-by-step recipe anyone could apply to achieve the same outcome.

Toxic productivity to me sounds like a coping mechanism that can mask a very sophisticated way of procrastination. My top advice would be to, well, cut yourself some slack. By being more consciously present in what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, you can manage your mental and emotional states in a way that works for you.

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