I’m generally pretty out of the loop when it comes to pop psychology phenomena, so I just stumbled across the term toxic productivity fairly recently. While I hadn’t heard the term before, I’m at least with it enough to know that productivity talk is all over the internet.
What is toxic productivity?
Toxic productivity is the push to always be productive, whatever the cost. A Huff Post article says “Toxic productivity doesn’t even let up once the task is complete. Once you’re technically done with a project at work, you might feel guilty for not having done more.”
This dude’s popular Tweet is an example mentioned in the Huff Post article:
To that, I say fuck off. Take your bullshit, along with your supposed discipline, and shove them up your ass. Ahem, where was I?
A Real Simple article points out that toxic productivity has some overlap with impostor syndrome. There’s also a sense of fear that not doing “enough” means being a failure, which is exactly what dude’s tweet tells you that they are. Who decides what “enough” is? That’s probably the should monster in your head. This approach can push people into a state of burnout.
Something else I first heard of very recently was “that girl” on TikTok. A Refinery 29 article says: “‘That girl’ isn’t just healthy, she’s professionally successful and looks her best at every moment. She wakes up every morning at 5.30 AM so she can seize the day and her nails are always uniform, manicured and eternally chip-free.” She has worked out, eaten avocado toast, meditated, and perfectly don her hair and makeup before you’ve even rolled out of bed. I haven’t seen that term on Pinterest, but I’ve seen lots of pins about a morning routine and all the gazillion things you’re supposed to do before 6 AM so you have a perfect day.
Why do people want this?
Sure, there may be societal pressure to do this, but why do people want to? I don’t get it. Then again, I’ve generally tended to prefer doing my own thing over following “shoulds,” and perfectionism and imposter syndrome aren’t among whatever issues I have. I’m also pretty pragmatic and independent, as well as a stubborn moose. A vague sense of needing to do “enough” to satisfy someone else doesn’t really fit in with my way of looking at the world.
In a more general sense, though, why does such a big chunk of society value being/looking productive rather than living life? Perhaps FOMO plays into this too. Instagram shows you all the pretty things that you’re supposed to do with your life of leisure, but toxic productivity culture tells you all the productive things you’re supposed to be accomplishing. That makes for one big shit sandwich of dissatisfaction.
Why can’t it be a good thing to relax? Isn’t that what most of us would actually like to do? It just seems weird to me that cultural pressures run so contrary to what actually feels good. Why are we “supposed to” feel like we’re not good enough, while at the same time we’re getting bombarded with toxic positivity messaging to always be positive and cut out toxicity from our lives?
Why can’t we instead celebrate non-sheep-ness and mellow out somewhere in the middle?
Efficiency vs. productivity
I’ve always been big on efficiency. Efficiency isn’t doing more; it’s smoothing out the logistics so tasks take less time, which means more time left over for stuff that feels good.
Organizing was always a big part of efficiency for me. Now, organization is necessary for functioning, but when I was well, it made me pretty efficient. At work, getting things done faster made it easier to keep work strictly within work hours. When I travelled, I would figure out the things I wanted to do in a city and then plan out my days to minimize time wasted on getting from place to place or waiting for things to open. That meant I could do the things I wanted to do and be able to actually enjoy it all.
Efficiency makes life easier, not harder, which to me seems like the opposite of toxic productivity. If all the toxic productivity energy got poured into identifying practical ways to make the things you need to do easier, imagine how much time there might be to actually enjoy stuff!
The mental illness factor
Mental illness can limit the resources you have available to get stuff done. It can also create psychological smog that turns doing pretty much anything into way more of a production than it should be.
Expecting people whose illness is actively getting in the way to be über-productive is absurd. If your spoon budget is limited, why should you be expected to waste spoons on things just to live up to someone else’s standard? Toxic productivity culture, keep your hands off mental illness culture! Being crazy is tiring; we don’t need more tiring on top of that!
Of course, it’s hard to see people who aren’t dealing with chronic illness and other such issues being able to do more than we can, but that doesn’t mean we should have to be all productive, all the time. It should be okay that we’re able to do less.
It’s your life to live
There are a lot of things that we can’t control in life. We can’t control the pressures from the outside world, but there is room to work on what we do with that. Stepping back/away from the social media nonsense is one way to do that. Prioritizing self-care is another, as is saying no to shoulds. And maybe sometimes giving the world the middle finger 🖕 and doing what works for you.
Had you come across the term toxic productivity before? Is it something that influences your life?