What Is Toxic Productivity, And Are You Living With It?

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Type #productivity on Instagram, and you will be smothered with more than 2 million pictures. From laptops, daily planners, coffee cups, piles of folders to highlighters in different hues—all are symbolic of productivity today. We’re all a victim of the hustle culture. As social media glamourises overworking, we’re in a constant rush to do something every minute, every second of the day. Worse, we start to measure our worth with our level of productivity, which can eventually lead to workaholism. Meet the other side—toxic productivity.

What Is Toxic Productivity 

To know more about this negative parallel, we turned to Dr Prerna Kohli, an eminent psychologist and the founder of Mind Tribe. “Toxic productivity is the need for a person to constantly engage in self-improvement. It is solely based on the idea that we need to ‘hustle’ or be uncomfortable to achieve success. This mindset is generated by culture, media and organisation to increase capitalisation. It can create burnout that is a complete mental and physical exhaustion. People who engage in toxic productivity are unable to enjoy or grasp the reality of their success and find it difficult to relax,” she shared. And here’s a fact: the pandemic has made the situation worse.

How Do We Recognise The First Sign?

With more time on our hands, the desire to do something when nothing is expected out of us has skyrocketed. And as being home blurs the line between professional and personal life, the question is—how do we recognise the first sign of toxic productivity engulfing us? According to Ridhi Golechha, a counselling psychologist and a holistic health practitioner, looking out for ‘all or nothing’ thinking is the key. “This thinking is a cognitive distortion that creates overworking spells or complete lethargy (both extremely toxic in their own ways),” she shares.

                         Credits: @emmylupinstudio

Ridhi further explains, “When we go into spells of ‘all’, it essentially means putting in unrealistic work hours, blurring boundaries between personal and professional life, with minimal or no rest. We end up fearing that if we take rest, we won’t be able to restart again or get lazy. The opposite of this is completely switching off and shutting down. These are the ‘nothing toxic periods,’ wherein lethargy and fatigue completely take over.” Other signs to acknowledge are mindlessly snacking to comfort yourself, inability to manage frustrations, being over-critical about work and creativity, muscle tension, stiffness and indigestion.

If you’ve found yourself feeling restless and guilty in downtime, then the best advice is to not put this thought on the back-burner. Psychotherapist and counsellor Amrita Kajaria, the founder of New Dimensions Counselling Services, suggests asking yourself a few questions in order to reflect.

                           Credits: @emmylupinstudio

Here’s What We Need To Ask Ourselves

– Am I pressurising myself to engage in tasks throughout the day?

– Do I end up feeling guilty for engaging in self-care practices such as taking breaks or pauses?

– Does my body feel fatigued and exhausted when I start my day?

– Do I often think that I am not doing enough, even when some tasks are getting done?

– Do people tell me that I need to take a break or I am working too much?

– How do I feel about my relationships, hobbies and other leisurely pursuits?

Kajaria says that “If your answers to most of the questions is a ‘yes’ then your relationship with work is likely getting strenuous, stressful and toxic.”

How Do We Navigate And Deal With Toxic Productivity?

Dealing with toxic productivity along with an enveloping cabin fever can be a minefield to combat. With little or no movement outside the house, everything can seem monotonous and suffocating. Dr Prerna Kohli and counsellor Amrita Kajaria suggest making time for breaks and pausing when needed.

                           Credits: @tinkoutsidethebox

“You are at home as a result of an ongoing ‘global crisis’ and not by choice. Taking breaks or having rest days are a part of self-care and self-love. You should not feel guilty for taking care of your well-being. There is no rule that states ‘burnout’ is the only way to succeed in life,” shares Dr Kohli. She also suggests to “set healthy boundaries between work, family time and self-care time. This includes not working beyond the office hours or from bed.”

A practical tip to follow to break the cycle of toxic productivity is to engage in the Pomodoro Timer technique. Riddhi Golechha further explains, “This technique is inspired by Pomodoro sauce because it takes 25 minutes to make it. After every 25 minutes period, take a 5-minute break. This will not only increase your productivity but also prevent that feeling of burn-out at the end of the day.”


To sum it up, the realisation and acknowledgement for taking a break and pausing need to be normalised. We need to be okay with the fact that sometimes, it is okay to not do anything at all because, in that particular moment, that is exactly what our body and mind need.

Photographs: Instagram

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