Toxic productivity is an obsession with drastic self-improvement, where we set high standards and unachievable goals. Regardless of how productive we are, we still feel guilty because we have not done as much as we could have done. Toxic productivity has only intensified during the pandemic when we have tried to be our most productive selves during the lockdown. When you add toxic productivity to the list of other stresses like social isolation, financial insecurity and health concerns, it can feel like too much to handle. The truth is, work, life balance is essential. There is a difference between healthy and toxic productivity. Here are the top six signs of toxic productivity.

A To-Do List When You Fall Asleep

One of the biggest signs of toxic productivity is the inability to turn work off after hours. While some jobs call for you to work past normal work hours, it becomes problematic when work is all you focus on. Many people have trouble coming out of work mode when they try to go to sleep at night. They generally have a to-do list in their head when they are trying to go to sleep. Yes, the laptop may be in sleep mode, but we cannot turn off the screen in our heads. You find yourself stressing when you are still up and not doing work. You may even have your phone next to you, so you’re sure you don’t miss any work email alerts. No matter how productive you are at work, you still find yourself thinking about the next task that needs to be completed.

Fear of Failure

Nobody likes to fail, especially when it comes to working. The fear of failure can be so intense that avoiding failure surpasses your motivation to succeed. When you’re insecure about doing things improperly, it can get in the way of your chances for success. While fear is a normal part of human nature, it becomes very difficult when that fear is running your life. It is even more harmful when your identity and ego are tied to work. When things do not go according to plan, it can cause you to shut down completely. If you have a fear of failure, remember things may not always go as planned. However, that does not mean you’ve failed. It’s imperative to learn from whatever situation arises. Some less-than-ideal situations can be incredible opportunities for changes and growth.


Another major sign of toxic productivity is burnout. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re burning out. We think we’re just grinding hard, and to accomplish our goals, we have to just keep going. For those who work hard, the grind is real. Many people don’t realize that as they are constantly pulling out their phones and drafting emails, celebrating our productivity, we may be shifting to a dark place. There are times when you ignore the signs of burnout, leading to bigger health issues like frequent migraines and stress in our bodies. Burnout often shows up as pushing ourselves, feeling like taking any time off will hinder productivity or look like we’re giving up. This is one of the reasons self-care is so important. We have to take care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Chronic Stress

When you work too hard over an extended period, it will eventually drain your energy. This can lead to real stress on your body. Chronic stress is linked to many conditions, including anxiety, depression, type 2 diabetes and increased risk of heart disease, among other things. One big sign that you are suffering from toxic productivity is when your downtime makes you anxious. Whether you are crashing on the couch to watch a series or walking around the part, the time we spend relaxing is important. If you notice that you are struggling to unwind when you have nothing scheduled, it is something that you need to watch.

Success is Meaningless

This may sound odd, especially given being productive is the entire point of bringing productive is being successful. However, those who are struggling with toxic productivity get caught up in a highly productive cycle just to be productive. So when you complete the project or achieve a work goal, it feels empty and hollow. You still do not feel good enough, or you may be too drained to appreciate the accomplishment. You may have also lost that sense of joy you had when you first started your role. While joy is a delightful feeling, it can easily be missed when you are laser-focused on success. Even if you feel like achieving your goals will make you feel happy, it can cause you to lose that joy when you go overboard.

Watching Others Be “Unproductive” Annoys You

Toxic productivity manifests itself in different ways.

Do you find yourself annoyed by the fun family and loved ones are having? Sometimes the toxic productivity can be so intense that you hold others to the same high standards you set for yourself. You get irritated thinking about the time people are losing to things you don’t deem important. If someone else is having fun doing the things they want to irritate you, it’s time to put those feelings in check. Remember that not everything in life centers around our productivity.

Some people call toxic productivity workaholism on steroids. You will push yourself to unhealthy extremes and stop paying attention to the things that matter most in your life. If you find yourself in a dark place due to your lack of work-life balance and feelings about productivity, it is time to look inward. Sometimes, the pressures of work can put you in a bad emotional place. You may end up feeling desperate, tired, exhausted and not spending time with the people you love. You cannot even think of anything outside of your job because it leaves you mentally exhausted.

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