It’s been a topic on my mind all year, though the nature of my fixation has shifted over the past 6 months – especially as I transitioned from a full time job into freelance – the underlying basics remain the same.
After diving into the subject a little deeper I came to find out about the term Toxic Productivity which sums it up pretty well. There are other related terms like “action bias” and “hustle culture“, but the former makes it sound more positive and the latter seems more about external pressure.
What is Toxic Productivity?#anchor
I want to focus more on strategies to combat toxic productivity in this post, but felt a quick definition would be useful to start with.
Toxic productivity is the desire to be productive at all times and at all costs, pushing yourself to unhealthy extremes in order to accomplish more.
I’ve pulled together some articles that helped me learn more if you’re interested in diving deeper too:
- When Doing is Your Undoing: Toxic Productivity
- The Psychology of Toxic Productivity – and How It’s Impacting Students
- When The ‘Hustle’ Isn’t Enough
Strategies to Fight Back#anchor
Following are the most impactful things I’ve tried, so much so that I’ve utilized them all multiple times.
Recalibrate the importance of “the List”#anchor
I like being organized with a list of tasks, and marking something off my list is a really effective motivator for me. But I tend to lose sight of the big picture if left to my own devices for too long.
- Just because it wasn’t “on the list” doesn’t mean it’s not still something important to do.
- Just because it is “on the list” doesn’t mean you’re going to be ready and able to do it when you planned.
I regularly remind myself that “the list” doesn’t define me or my worth.
Define your Core Values#anchor
By core values, I’m referring to the rarely changing long term principles and beliefs that guide our choices. How we want to be perceived and remembered by others.
Knowing your core values helps clarify what’s important now, what is essential, and what can wait.
Set Realistic Goals#anchor
It’s a great exercise to think big and set long term goals that stretch you personally or professionally, but those should continue to be broken down into short term goals, and then into tasks that are each individually achievable.
These tasks should have realistic deadlines too, estimating is a difficult and imprecise practice. Give it your best guess, see how it goes, and recalibrate. For example, I _constantly_ underestimate how long content marketing and outreach efforts take so I’ve continued to adjust my expectations.
To quote Amy Hupe from her presentation It all means nothing in the end, “fuck moonshots”.
I wrote a bit about this in How I Hacked My Brain to Let Myself Relax in the Evenings, and happy to say I’m still holding firm on some of the key points there:
- I get to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even weekends. That regular cadence helps with sleep quality more than I thought possible.
- I still have general time boxed sections of the day that I hold myself to no matter what. No more work after dinner unless there’s a very good reason for it.
Setting boundaries to get the sleep I need, reframing time away from work so I don’t feel guilty about it, and having a predictable schedule all lead to more productivity in less time.
Embrace Low Energy Days#anchor
As I get older, I’ve noticed that some days I really can’t force myself to power through like I used to. Maybe I should say “not willing to” rather than “can’t” there, older Steve recognizes when something isn’t the fire drill that younger Steve may have thought.
Rather than fighting myself, over-caffeinating, and generally wasting time trying, I’ve instead opted to take another path when this happens.
I ask myself “What can I do today to make tomorrow better?”
Focusing on tomorrow’s productivity helps me to reframe and not think so critically about my lack of it today. Some days it means getting up and doing a bit of meal prep, going for a walk, taking a nap, cleaning up my todo list and low-level prepping.
All of these things can make tomorrows productivity that little bit easier.
The Common Thread#anchor
It may come as no surprise that the common thread through all the strategies mentioned above is self awareness. Forcing myself to think about my actions, acknowledge habits I should stop (or start), and embrace my limitations all require some level of self awareness.
If you’re feeling the pressures of toxic productivity, give some of these strategies a try. It’s likely that not all of them will work for you, but maybe the act of trying will give you some ideas for your own situation.
Any time and attention put towards figuring out core values, clarifying what feels out of alignment, and steps taken to improve is time well spent.
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