Why toxic productivity is an unsustainable practice

Lockdown, for many of us, was a really surreal time. We’re slowly coming out of it now with restrictions lifting, and many of us are looking back on ourselves and who we were before all this vs who we are now.

People are making lots of jokes about how productive lockdown one was (we learned languages, redecorated our houses and cleared out every room in the place) as opposed to now, when a lot of us hit a slump in the last lockdown.

But how much truth is in these jokey observations? How productive were you and are you still hitting that hyper level of accomplishment? A lot of us are feeling the pressure now as we re-enter society and see all the achievements of those around us, of everything accomplished in the pandemic, treating it like time off, rather than an added stress and pressure in our day.

Photo Of Woman Holding A Gray Laptop In Front Of Systems

We go on Instagram and see people who got really fit or started a page for their hobby or a small business during this time. LinkedIn shows us who adapted well to this challenge, who got promoted and who started gaining new skills. And meanwhile we sit there behind the screen feeling unfulfilled and unproductive, despite having achieved plenty ourselves.

This feeling of inadequacy can lead to toxic productivity: An obsession with self-improvement and optimisation. This maximisation of productivity is harmful, making us feel restless and useless when we aren’t working towards levelling up.

If this sounds like it’s not too bad to you – if it sounds productive – then you may be suffering from toxic productivity. This kind of productivity does not work towards goals, just forward movement – it’s never satisfied with where you are at, it just looks to the next thing you can achieve. Dissatisfied and exhausted, you’ll feel restless if you’re not working towards some radical self-improvement or achieving your next step.

Photo Of Woman Carrying Her Baby While Working On Her Laptop

The global pandemic put too much emphasis on this and now that we’re leaving lockdown, many of us are examining our year or more in lockdown and wondering what we did with it.

We survived a global pandemic. That’s what we did.

A year of upheaval, socially, mentally, globally – an unprecedented situation that has taken a major toll on your mental and emotional health, making changes to things that we thought were cultural and social institutions. We survived something we couldn’t even imagine in 2019. Productivity should not be at the top of your list when you look back on the last year – mental health should be.

This restlessness might be a result of not wanting to stop and look to closely at the harder moments in the last year. It can lead to serious problems like burnout, and deteriorating mental health so it’s essential to keep it in check. It can be counteracted by setting realistic goals and adjusting priorities to make your down time and rest ethic a priority.

Having a good rest ethic can combat burnout and toxic productivity, making the day-to-day output of work easier to manage in the long run and making your mental health a priority. It’s about taking time just for yourself.

Woman in Black Tank Top Using Black Laptop Computer

Don’t necessarily think self-care with facemasks and bubble baths (though if that’s what you’re into, go for it). It’s about taking the time to do nothing. Not your laundry or tidying the house or your side projects – just genuinely unproductive, relaxing nothing. Self-care isn’t actually the same thing, as often, some people’s form of self-care is feeling organized. So that includes things like doing your shopping, meal prep, clearing out your room – all great things to do to feel better and more organized – but they’re not activities that fall under rest ethic.

Cultivating a rest ethic is being comfortable with yourself when you’re not being productive. Watching a mindless show that you enjoy, reading a book that you really like (not one that you have to read for book club or class or for anyone but yourself), meditating or going for a walk just for you, with no particular destination or errand to run. It’s an important skill to learn, to check out of productivity mode and to move into the restful state that allows you to recuperate and feel well rested before tackling tomorrow’s tasks.

Fiona Murphy is a freelance writer, specialising in book-related content, fiction and poetry. She can be found drinking tea, craving tapas or attempting to finish her never-ending-novel.

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