Are You Falling Victim To 'Toxic Productivity'? Here's How To Find Your Way Out

After a long and busy workweek, many of us look forward to the weekend as a time to relax and enjoy our favorite activities — whether that means diving into a hobby, catching up on our Netflix queue, or spending quality time with friends and loved ones. But sometimes, the reality of our days off is a little less idyllic.

Do you ever find yourself stressing away your free time? Perhaps you sit down to watch a new movie, but can't focus for worrying about your to-do list. Maybe you even drag over a load of laundry to fold in front of the TV. In today's hustle culture, it can be hard to really slow down and smell the roses, even though doing nothing can be good for your mental health.

As Dr. April Wilson observes to Shondaland, "Hustle culture is about being a human doing rather than a human being, which is dangerous in many ways." Being productive is certainly an admirable goal, and can help you keep on top of adulthood's never-ending stream of tasks. But there's also a downside to this way of thinking, and it's known as toxic productivity.

What is toxic productivity?

In essence, toxic productivity is the obsessive need to be constantly doing something useful — whatever that means to you (per Psychology Today). It can stem from a need to stand out and prove yourself, as well as from control issues that create an inability to entrust tasks to others. But this nonstop action can actually be harmful to various facets of your life, from your relationships to your physical health. Often, it can lead to exhaustion, burnout, dissatisfaction, and an inability to relax.

When you envision the classic image of a workaholic, you may think of someone who clocks 80-hour work weeks and spends hardly any time at home. While this type of behavior is definitely one way to push yourself too hard, toxic productivity can also be more subtle. As Moodally points out, toxic productivity isn't limited to the workplace. In fact, it usually has its claws dug deep into your home life.

Maybe you're working an average number of hours, but then spend all of your free time caring for children, cleaning your house, running errands, and pouring energy into your side hustle. Or perhaps you feel guilty taking time for hobbies that can't be monetized or somehow deemed useful. If you never give yourself time to truly take a break, this kind of go-go-go schedule can quickly add up to toxic productivity.

And this mindset is uncomfortably common. According to the task management experts at Asana, 40% of workers think that burnout is unavoidable on the road to success. However, this is a dangerous and generally unsustainable way of thinking. So what can you do to try and offset the endless, insidious pressure of toxic productivity in your life?

How to give yourself space from toxic productivity

If you think you may be falling victim to the persistent task anxiety of toxic productivity, it will probably take some time to rewire your thought patterns. Trello recommends starting with task triage. Identify which items on your to-do list are truly the most important, rather than trying to tackle them all equally.

For instance, try categorizing tasks via the Eisenhower Matrix, which quantifies them based on both importance and urgency. Urgent and important tasks should get most of your attention. Meanwhile, important but not urgent tasks can be scheduled later, urgent but unimportant tasks can be handed off to someone else, and tasks that are neither urgent nor important can simply be dropped (per Todoist).

Likewise, Psychology Today suggests being more choosy about the tasks you take on in the first place, asking why you and why now. By questioning your impulse to take responsibility, you may recognize chances to delegate or delay tasks until after you've had a chance to catch your breath. Ultimately, the goal is to carve out some guilt-free opportunities to rest and appreciate life outside of your constant responsibilities. Remember: Being reasonably productive is one thing, but life is for living. Don't let it pass you by while you're neck-deep in menial chores.