Jul 07, 2023, 05:57AM

Toxic Productivity

Hi, my name is Mary and I’m a workaholic. 

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Of all the addictions I inherited from my dysfunctional family, things could’ve been worse than ending up a workaholic, but that’s no walk in the park either. I don’t like vacations, don’t know how to relax and sneak work in on “days off.”

When does the unhealthy workaholism devolve into the even more unhealthy “toxic productivity”? Psychology Today says “doing "enough" is never enough for people who fall into the toxic productivity trap. Such people are never satisfied—they could always have done more, or done things better. And this dissatisfaction is accompanied by guilt.

What’s more, research has shown that embracing a culture of "busyness" wrecks productivity, separates us from our families and prevents us from developing deeper relationships with work colleagues.

According some, the concept of toxic productivity evolved because of the pandemic. People were home full time, so instead of using downtime to rest or find a new hobby, they worked more.

“Many of us have fallen into patterns of toxic productivity during the pandemic,” said Kathryn Esquer, a psychologist and founder of the Teletherapist Network. That’s primarily because all of our regular routines were put on pause. We had unprecedented amounts of free time. But why did we throw ourselves into work instead of seizing the opportunity to be guiltlessly idle for once? Because at the time, we felt an acute, pressing sense of uncertainty. We were in unknown territory during those early days of the pandemic, but for those of us who hadn’t been laid off, at least we still had our work. Becoming a virtual work martyr gave people a welcome sense of security.

I already had a type A workaholic personality, but starting a business during the pandemic is what turned the corner into a full-on toxic productivity lifestyle for me as well. I started a home candlemaking business and ended up working many 18-20-hour days that did irreversible damage to my body (I have had multiple surgeries on my elbows, neck, and feet so far). Currently I’m balancing work and life better; I have an assistant and the business isn’t as wild as when it first started. I don’t have to and have no desire to work myself to death. But finding that balance hasn’t been easy. In a connected world, as a small businessowner it’s so easy to “check a few things” when you run your business from your phone.

Work’s comforting to me. In 11 years of helping edit this website, I don’t think I’ve taken two weeks off. I shudder at the thought of retiring— I don’t think I’d ever do it, the thought of not working is horrifying. Whether it’s writing, painting or candlemaking, I’ll always work. It’s managing the pace of the work that I need to keep “working on.”


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