Things I learned in my Twenties

Toxic Productivity

Is ‘productivity‘ our only free pass to this pandemic? With that being said, is escapism back in style? If we’re not dressed for the occasion, are we simply the outcasts of the party?

For the longest time, I’ve been using productivity as a way to escape any negative emotion I might be feeling. Whenever I was reigned with stress or sadness, I would reach out for my laptop & get some work done. Great results; not-so-great coping mechanism. If there’s a fine line between healthy productivity and toxic productivity, how careful should we be? Is there really a right direction when it comes to productivity? What is the price we have to pay when we become a part of the ‘hustle‘ culture?

Healthy Vs. Toxic Productivity

According to the Business Dictionary:

"Productivity is computed by dividing average output per period by the total costs incurred or resources (capital, energy, material, personnel) consumed in that period."

This often translates to: working non-stop like a machine in a limited time-scape, with large amounts of coffee and minimum amount of sleep.

Isn’t that what motivational accounts on YouTube & Instagram promote? I know that this is what I’ve been feeding on since high school. I almost had these inspirational speeches memorised by heart. Ever since then, I’ve applied every rule in the book: I worked harder, slept less & eventually, became restless.

So where do we draw the line between healthy and toxic productivity?

Toxic productivity
Comparing & contrasting positive and negative productivity.

I only noticed the difference between the two terms in January and all the way through March this year. I was overworked and tired, I had many breakdowns and anxiety attacks, I ate and slept very little and worked beyond exhaustion. Every time I didn’t work, I felt guilty. It was a notorious cycle of anxiety from work which lead to negative emotions and negative emotions that lead to work. I felt trapped. What many people didn’t know back then was that I was very close to giving up and quitting. I told myself, it wasn’t worth it. The amount of stress and mental (as well as physical) exhaustion was insane.

I was burning out.

The dangerous cycle of toxic productivity or workaholism.
The never-ending cycle of toxic productivity or workaholism.

The only time I’ll ever thank Corona, would be the moment it made me realise that while there’s a thin line between healthy and toxic productivity, there was a middle ground between working too hard & quitting; RESTING.

An obscure concept that I not only took for granted, but also was in denial of. I used to think that the more I rested, the more I failed. Which I know sounds crazy, but I felt like when I rest, I was betraying the hustle community and that I’ve let them down.

Is ‘resting’ a red light district when you’re a part of the ‘hustle community’?

How often do motivational speakers say, “take it easy” or “get some rest”? Not very often. Are we breaking their bylaws when we encourage rest? Here’s why they rarely talk about rest:

  • They’re afraid that when they speak of rest, people will confuse it for laziness & entitlement.
  • They want to make us believe that what they’re doing is impossible.
  • They want us to work and develop discipline despite how we feel.

That doesn’t sound so bad but when we choose one side or the other, that’s when we lose our balance.

The right balance between work and resting.

Is there such thing as a work-life balance during COVID?

Bringing work to bed sounded like a great idea in March but now it’s really starting to bite.

Working from home is comfortable yet exhausting. The working hours are almost non-existent and since we’re home anyway, we’re working anyway —at least that’s what I’m unconsciously thinking. I was already used to remote work since I’m a part-time writer, but I never worked this much before. Now that I think of it, are we working harder than we used to prove to ourselves that COVID didn’t get to us & that we made it out alive?

Where’s the nearest EXIT to healthy productivity?

There are many ways to practice healthy productivity, here are some small changes you could do to achieve a work-life balance:

  • Fight the guilt —remind yourself that your worth is not dependent on your productivity.
  • Enjoy some quiet time —you don’t have to do something all the time. Sometimes watching a tv show or wasting time adding things in your cart is what your soul really needs.
  • Set a schedule —the only way to avoid overlapping work & life, is to set out specific time for each.
  • Pro-tip: Don’t work on the weekend —I’m really guilty of this one! I’m not perfectly clear on that one yet but slowly, I’m taking more breaks to do the things that I love.
  • Learn when to say no —this is a really important one. When your co-workers ask you to do something that you know you don’t have to do, you have the option to say yes or no. If you have so much on your plate, say no.
  • Don’t try to be everything and everywhere —it’s okay to admit to not feeling well or feeling like you can’t take on a certain task.
  • Prioritise rest time —take your rest schedule as serious as you would take your work time.
  • Fight the urge to multitask —multitasking will result in you taking an even more time to finish a single task. Believe me, been there done that.
  • When you feel exhausted or drained, stop for a while and find your creativity again.
  • Always look for shortcuts —now while many preach about working hard, constantly try to find a way to work smarter. Whether it’s listening / reading self-development content or using technology, always learn new ways to improve your productivity.

If you haven’t already, follow my social media page where I share my thoughts on many similar topics. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions or thoughts to share!


By Elaf Trabulsi

Engineer & freelance writer

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