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Break the Cycle: How Toxic Productivity Sabotages Success

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Team Phonism

Workplace burnout was recently added to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon. Not a disease, rather a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been managed successfully. Since the problem has now been identified and studied, has it gotten better? Nope.

What’s Toxic Productivity?

It may sound like an oxymoron because productivity has historically been a great thing. We’re always trying to boost and increase our productivity, so where does the line fall between positive and toxic? How can we avoid slipping into the bad habits that feed the latter?

Never Enough

If you are always busy “doing,”  you aren’t alone. Many are more comfortable doing rather than not doing, or making hurried decisions because sitting in a problem is uncomfortable. This restlessness might be fueled by a fear of personal failure or insecurity. It can also develop if there’s an avoidance to face personal problems and issues outside of the workplace. 

Individuals who tie their self-worth to dollars made, hours worked or meetings attended may fall into this category. No matter what, it’s never enough. If this pressure to “do” leads to exhaustion, guilt for not accomplishing goals or producing better results, Psychology Today thinks you’re probably experiencing toxic productivity.

Even when more hours are logged, it doesn’t create better results. Projects and assignments are rushed through. Quality of work suffers and productivity declines. 

Have You Entered into the Toxic Zone?

Do these behaviors seem familiar? If the answer is yes - you aren’t alone. Good news is, there are easy ways to combat toxic productivity. What’s interesting is the same actions to increase positive productivity will help decrease toxic productivity.

Define boundaries - Set a specific time to close down and silence phone notifications. Set the expectation with colleagues that you won’t be available after hours unless it’s an emergency.

Practice self-care - Take a walk, listen to music, meditate. Giving yourself a break is productive!

Adjust goals and expectations - Set realistic deadlines, don’t overcommit, say “no” when necessary and delegate if possible. 

Attention management vs. time management - Shift your strategy to self-motivate. Recognize where your thoughts are, how it affects your productivity, and practice shifting to the brain state that is more relevant in the moment.

Reflect - Self-awareness is necessary for your psychological health. The emotionally self-aware can distinguish how their feelings affect them and influence job performance. Learn from times you were able to be productive without compromising your well-being.

Do nothing - Schedule 5-10 minutes in your calendar to literally do nothing. Sit with yourself (as uncomfortable as that may be). Look out the window. Doodle. If work thoughts encroach, acknowledge them and let them float away like a balloon. You may find yourself coming up with better ideas and experiencing a heightened level of creativity and innovation.

Seek support - Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist about your struggles. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage a healthy work-life balance.

Productivity will always be important in the workplace. But, when it starts to affect other areas of your life, it’s time to take a step back and honestly assess your behavior. Making small adjustments throughout the day to ensure balance help both aspects of your life and lessen the chance of burnout or pulling a Jerry McGuire.     

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