How long does it take you to relax? When you take a break from work, are you in full relaxation mode straight away, or do you need a few days to shake off the busyness?!
When I was employed by somebody else, I remember it used to take me an age to start relaxing when I finally went on holiday. I used to love (or at least, I thought I loved) that buzz of panic+adrenaline the week before I went on holiday when I had NO CHOICE but to get everything done.
Because, of course, how could a multi-million-pound business survive without me for 2 whole weeks?!
When on holiday, though, I just couldn't switch off. Was it guilt because I'd left the work Blackberry at home? Anxiety in case there was a work emergency, and I wasn't there? Major FOMO because, if they coped without me, was I even necessary?
Reader, I was in the grips of full-blown toxic productivity!
WTF is Toxic Productivity?
Toxic productivity is something we learn. It's conditioned into us at school. It manifests the need to constantly "do." As a result, you may feel unable to rest or take downtime. You can't enjoy it when forced to step away from work. A sense that you "should" always be productive.
"Should" is a powerful word. So beware when it pops up as it's a sign we're judging ourselves against some idealised expectations of what is correct or appropriate. It implies obligation. There's something we're not doing yet and that we "ought" to be doing. This perpetuates shame and guilt of not living up to society's idealised standards. All this powers the toxic productivity train.
Where does Toxic Productivity come from?
Productivity Porn is where. We're bombarded by self-appointed productivity gurus who make a load of money by telling people how to get more stuff done.
This now-deleted (and stressfully long) tweet is a perfect example of it. Toby shames us, mere mortals, for not accomplishing everything he has accomplished. He blesses us with his hints and tips for greater productivity. But fails to disclose that his wife does all the childrearing and emotional and domestic labour. And let's face it, he probably has help from other people in his work too.
Or how about when people tell us all about their "get up at 5am" routine to be super productive and get loads of stuff done. I'm being productive at 5am by SLEEPING! Stop shaming people into getting less sleep. We're all not built like Margaret Thatcher, who, by legend, only needed a short 2-3 hours a night of sleep or something ridiculous like that. We are not machines. We can't keep going at the pace we're going. When does it stop? Simply when your body can't take it? Overwork leads to burnout, where you can't even pretend to be productive, leading to a whole world of new problems.
How Do We Get Off The Toxic Productivity Train?
1. Stop with the 'side hustles' already
Something that completely drives me up the wall is this 'everyone has to work harder' or 'get a higher paid job' rhetoric we're getting pushed at us. We're constantly blasted with messages from people about how they've made eleventy billion dollars, and it's usually by having a massive team of people doing all the work for them.
I recently saw a post on Twitter where someone had been to an event, and they made a pompom necklace. They posted a picture. It was pretty! And all the comments were "you should make these to sell" and "you should start an Etsy". I was like, nooooo! Not everything has to be monetised. Create for the sake of creativity. Enjoy yourself. Nourish your soul!
Are people being forced down the side-hustle thing because they're working full-time in a job and they still are unable to make ends meet? Why is this the case? Employers! If your people are going down the side-hustle route, perhaps you need to consider paying them well so they don't need to split their focus?
2. Do less
How much work are you doing that is 'busy work'? Or stuff that you're doing that is neither important nor urgent? I get it. Sometimes these tasks seem way more fun than the tedious urgent, and essential tasks. It's also a great place to 'hide'. By hiding, I mean pretending that you're being productive, but instead of sending out a proposal, you're responding to comments on your latest LinkedIn post.
Greg McKeown's book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less was a big eye-opener for me. What are you doing that you don't need to do? What can you automate, eliminate or delegate?
3. Question the "shoulds."
I am now hyper-aware of people (myself included) saying 'should'. It's likely to be a word you use when talking to yourself.
If you recognise this in yourself and perhaps want to cure the "Should Habit", here are some actions you could choose.
a. Reduce them: Decide that you want to consciously try and reduce the shoulds and declare that intention to yourself. For example, pop something like "No more shoulds" on post-its and stick them around your home as reminders
b. Enlist a "should buddy" - someone who will point out when you say it. Someone who enjoys being annoying would be particularly effective at this.
c. Replace them - Tara Mohr describes the concept of 'Gift Goals' as a replacement for 'Should Goals'. How can you replace the' should' with a more positive saying that would make achieving said goals more of a gift to you? For example, instead of saying, "I should go on a diet, you could experiment with different phrases such as "I would love to look and feel healthier".
d. Catch them. When you hear a should, you can ask yourself, "who says?". Shoulds can be absolute burdens. When you're saying to yourself that you 'should' do something, it's not something you are bouncing around the room with delight to do. So, where does it come from? Do you even believe what you're saying?
4. Play more
My coach sent me this episode of Glennon Doyle's We Can Do Hard Things podcast, where they discuss the concept of fun. Two things they said that resonated. Firstly, the opposite of play isn't work; it's depression.
And secondly, that play and fun must be purposeless; it has to be done for their own sake and not connected to an outcome. So technically, a trip to Ikea for some cutlery is not the type of fun you're looking for. Fun requires you to lose yourself, be silly and not worry about how you appear. When was the last time you had fun? When was the last time you played?
Tell us all the ways you're having fun and being anti-productive in the comments!