How to Combat Toxic Productivity

Productivity has taken on a new name in recent years. Rather than simply completing a task or fulfilling a goal, being ‘productive’ means working ourselves into the ground until we’re exhausted and constantly adding new things onto our to-do lists to achieve satisfaction, only to repeat the same cycle tomorrow, the day after, and the day after.

This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, as the decline in social opportunities and the reduction of office working has given us more time and a stronger sense of flexibility, especially as home working has become ‘normal’ for a lot of people. This means we’re treating the time we’d normally spend commuting to and from work and doing the school drop off as ‘extra work time.’

Here at CANDESCENT, we’re working towards supporting business owners and creatives in both their work and personal lives, promoting a healthy work-life balance so you can thrive in all aspects of your life. This blog post will look at:

  • What toxic productivity is,
  • What toxic productivity looks like,
  • Why toxic productivity is dangerous,
  • How you can combat toxic productivity.



Let’s break toxic productivity down.

Toxic productivity is the constant compulsion to be productive.

In conversation with HuffPost, business coach and author Simone Milasas said “When toxic productivity is leading your life, you judge yourself every day for what you haven’t done, rather than looking at what you have accomplished.”

This also plays into the ‘hustle culture’ our society is plagued with, which Celinne Da Costa of Forbes defines as ‘the collective urge we currently seem to feel as a society to work harder, stronger, faster. To grind and exert ourselves at our maximum capacity, every day, and accomplish our goals and dreams at a lightning speed that matches the digital world we’ve built around ourselves.’

Toxic productivity can also be associated with ‘burnout’, defined as the experience of being physically and emotionally exhausted as a result of overworking.

It is also worth noting the difference between ‘drive’ and ‘overworking’. Having the determination to succeed and achieve your dreams should not justify a ‘toxic productivity’ mindset. You should not correlate the ‘I’m not a quitter’ mindset with feeling compelled to overwork yourself in order to achieve a goal, as you can still foster a strong work ethic without submitting to the constant pressure to be productive.

Toxic productivity is not only associated with work and professional interests; it can also be recognised in the compulsion to be constantly busy, and can be seen in any area of your life. For example, during the lockdown you may have found that you were keeping yourself as busy as possible throughout the week so as not to feel the effects of staying at home for an extended period of time. This becomes ‘toxic’ when you keep yourself busy because you feel as though you should be busy, not necessarily because you want to be busy, as you’re trying to replicate the feeling of being productive even when your workload has largely reduced and your responsibilities have somewhat altered due to the ‘stay at home’ mandate.

This is rooted in the pressures and expectations our society has developed in recent years, and the understanding that to be successful and fulfilled is to work ourselves until we cannot work any harder.



It can be difficult to analyse whether you are suffering from toxic productivity. So, we’ve compiled a selection of experiences and feelings that someone who is suffering from toxic productivity may recognise:

  • When you are not being productive, you feel guilty.


  • You feel as though to be completely productive you must work until you can’t work anymore – only then will you have reached your ultimate peak of productivity. This might mean working from 5am to 9pm every day, or pulling an all-nighter multiple times a week, even if your mind and body is telling you to do otherwise.


  • You struggle to say no when people ask you to do things, and take on multiple responsibilities that you don’t necessarily have time for.


  • You find it difficult to sit still or relax for long periods of time; during this down time, you’re always thinking about work and you feel paranoid that you’re missing out on valuable work time.


  • You correlate hard work with time, not the quality of work; you live by phrases such as ‘I must work for X hours a day to feel fulfilled’ or ‘I haven’t worked hard enough until I’ve worked for X hours.’


  • Your work day is not structured by specific start and finish times. Rather, you don’t leave your desk until everything on your to-do list is complete, as you’ll feel unsatisfied if you leave anything undone.


  • You always go above and beyond, even when it is not expected of you, because you feel you should.


  • You only feel fulfilled when you are being ‘productive.’


  • You don’t class rest, relaxing and socializing as ‘productive’. These things are only time wasters. Instead, being ‘productive’ is only related to the things that advance your life in some way, perhaps in relation to work or studying.


  • You feel as though you can always be doing more, even if the work you have produced is more than satisfactory.


  • You work yourself until you can’t work anymore.


  • You put yourself under a significant amount of pressure and expect a lot from yourself, setting unrealistic goals.


  • You constantly compare yourself to others, and feel as though you need to match their performance in order to ‘keep up.’


  • You struggle to know when you’ve done enough.


If you recognise any of these feelings, you may be struggling with toxic productivity. The important thing to take away from this exercise is, the above experiences contribute to an unhealthy relationship between you and your work.



Ironically, aiming to be productive all the time can actually decrease your overall productivity; if you’re working yourself until you drop, before picking yourself up and working at the same pace the next day, you’re not giving yourself enough time to re-energize and refresh your mind and body. Being a hard worker does not equate to constantly working, yet the ‘toxic productivity’ mindset compels us to analyse how hard we work based on the hours we put in, but not necessarily the effort.

Suffering from toxic productivity and limiting the amount of time you spend away from work doing the things you love could also mean you begin to hate the work you are doing, so you feel less motivated in your work. This could contribute to under performing, which in turn pushes you to work harder to fulfil the expectations you set for yourself, even if you hate what you are doing.

On a more serious level, burdening yourself with a ‘toxic productivity’ mindset will contribute to feelings of exhaustion and fatigue. Replacing meal times, regular exercise and quality sleep with work and prioritising your professional goals over your wellbeing is unsustainable in the long term, and could have negative impacts on your physical and mental health.



Battling toxic productivity is not an easy journey to embark on, especially if you have lived with the mindset of ‘being productive all the time’ for a while.

In order to combat toxic productivity, we need to change how we view productivity. Rather than seeing it as correlated with hours and how we feel when we’ve finished our day (i.e – completely and utterly exhausted), we should see productivity as associated with the quality of the work we produce. In addition, we should banish the perception that we need to be busy all the time, as well as the perception of ‘work’ as good and ‘play’ as bad.

Here are five steps you can take to start working towards reducing feelings of needing to be productive all the time:

  • Stop asking yourself ‘What could I be doing right now?’ and ask yourself ‘What do I want to do now?’
  • Set meaningful, realistic goals within an appropriate time frame
  • Take time away from social media
  • Set boundaries
  • Reanalyse how you look at work



1.  Stop asking yourself ‘What could I be doing right now?’ and ask yourself ‘What do I want to do now?’:

Toxic productivity can arise when we get caught up in what we think we should be doing rather than what we actually want to do, ‘should’ being the key word here. Rather than filling your week with the things that you know will help you professionally alone, try and see the things you love doing aside from work as having the same level of importance.

Making time for things that don’t involve work, such as meeting up with friends, reading a book, going on a long walk or simply watching TV, will give your brain and body the time it needs to relax and reset away from the desk. Finding a balance between what you want to do and what you need to do is the first step to combating the feeling that you should always be working towards your professional goals. And, you will probably find you are more productive when you return to work, too.


2.  Set meaningful, realistic goals within an appropriate time frame:

When deciding what tasks you will complete on any given day, make sure they are realistic; that is, you’ll be able to finish them within a reasonable time frame. Not only will this mean you’re less likely to be left with unfinished tasks at the end of the day so that you automatically feel the need to carry on into the later hours in order to finish them, setting yourself realistic goals will limit the time you’re spending on your work per day as they’re likely to be much more achievable.

Rather than seeing your working day as endless, create a timetable of when you’re going to be working and when you’re not going to be working. This might mean you decide to work 9am – 5pm, and outside of these hours are strictly used for anything other than work. Being strict with what hours you’re treating as ‘work hours’ will also mean you’re overall productivity is boosted, as you’re going to be more conscious that you have to complete the tasks of the day in a set time frame.

This will help you cut down the hours you’re working and encourage you to reflect on what you have completed in the day rather than what you haven’t completed in the day.


3.  Take time away from social media:

Social media is both a blessing and a curse. When trying to combat toxic productivity, take some time away from your social media accounts, as even though it only shows a tiny percentage of someone’s day, it may be encouraging you to work ‘harder’ (aka, longer and not necessarily more effectively) if your friends and colleagues are posting about their achievements or how long they’ve worked today.

This includes LinkedIn. This site is wonderful for sharing your work-related achievements and commending those of others, but it may also be contributing to the compulsion to always be working and trying to match your achievements to those of your colleagues or peers.

Another positive about taking time off social media is it allows you to live in the present and prevents you from wasting time scrolling, again boosting your overall productivity rate whilst discouraging you from working longer in order to complete tasks.


4.  Set boundaries:

As well as time-related boundaries, setting boundaries in other areas of your work life will help tackle the toxic productivity mindset.

This may include turning off notifications from your phone after a certain hour, so you won’t see work-related notifications and therefore won’t be tempted to act upon them. It may include small positive changes such as shutting down your laptop at a certain time in the day, or drinking so many litres of water during your work time.

As well as boundaries to do with work, you can also set yourself small, healthy goals in your personal life, such as making time for a 30 minute walk every day, reading so many pages of your book before bed, spending quality time with a different friend or family member each week, or anything that makes you feel healthy and happy. These will help you prioritise the things that really matter to your health and wellbeing.

Be careful not to turn these into super strict goals, though, as it may allow the toxic productivity mindset to creep in. Rather than seeing them as targets you absolutely have to achieve every day, see them as aspirations that can help you feel good and take time away from work. If you don’t manage the walk one day, or feel too tired to read your book, know that it is okay and that you don’t have to do them if your mind and body isn’t feeling it. Implementing these strategies into your personal life will help you manifest boundaries in your work life, too.


5.  Reanalyse how you look at work:

What words spring to mind when you think about work? Does thinking about work make you happy and inspired, or does it make you feel anxious, worried and stressed?

Looking at your work from a different perspective could help you let go of the ‘toxic productivity’ mindset. If you see work as something you love doing, something that makes you happy and something that can help you advance your passions, you’re more likely to perceive it as something that is there to be enjoyed. Once you stop enjoying it (i.e – when your brain is ready for a rest), you know it’s time to stop.



Toxic productivity is something that can be combated; let’s stop normalising hustle culture and instead focus on working effectively whilst giving ourselves the space and time to nurture our passions and live healthier, happier lives.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can combat toxic productivity; follow us on social media @WeAreCandescent and share your experiences with the Candescent community!


Image Credits: © Minh Pham | © STIL



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