How To Shake Toxic Productivity Because Not Sleeping Isn't Something To Brag About

Work is exhausting; whether on your feet all day or at a desk, most people can't wait to get home when 5 o'clock hits. For some of us, though, stepping away from the office is easier said than done. Many women find themselves in a state of constant overproduction, which leads to near-constant exhaustion. In recent years, we've been inundated with buzzwords like quiet quitting and burnout to describe our modern workplace culture.


Toxic productivity is often the cause of workplace burnout. "You might be engaged in toxic productivity if you feel pressure to be constantly productive and busy, even guilty when you rest or 'do nothing.' You might be prioritizing work at the expense of your mental and physical health and even relationships," Jenny Blake, author and podcaster, explained to Forbes. "In the long run, it's not sustainable — you may experience louder signals that this way of working isn't working for you, such as burnout, anxiety, depression." The problem — which should be simple enough to solve — is quite complicated. If you've set a high output standard for yourself, it can be hard to take a beat and realign your productivity with a more manageable goal.


If you're worried you might be suffering from an overproductive mindset or even burnout, you're not alone; it's an increasingly common problem. Below, we dig into exactly what it means to be "overproductive" and how to get back to a healthy standard.

Know the signs

First and foremost, you must take stock of how much your job affects your private life. "If you're finding yourself reviewing documents from the toilet, sending emails with small children in your lap, or you're frequently finding yourself saying, 'Sorry, I just need to respond to this Slack message!' at the dinner table — you might need to check in with yourself and your boundaries at work," Kate Sevilla, author of "How to work without losing your mind," told Harpers Bazaar. The side effects of your toxic productivity outweigh losing precious time with your kids, though. Chronically overproductive people often land in a state of burnout, and people who suffer from burnout report higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation, and exhaustion.


Some signs of burnout can be difficult to identify. Telltale signs include high blood pressure, increased cortisol, GI problems, and sleep issues. Additionally, if you are suffering from burnout, you may find yourself getting sick more often, as exhaustion and lack of sleep can have adverse effects on your immune system. The good news? There's plenty you can do to calm your nervous system and get your life under control if you feel work is starting to take over.

What's the real problem?

Next, ask yourself how you got here. Is it simply that you've taken on way more than you can handle? Or, could it be that you're no longer passionate about your job? When you begin to lose interest in the details of your job, each new task, no matter how small, can seem like a huge burden. Eventually, you can hit a state of burnout where you're so overworked and disinterested that you can't even find the energy to get the bare minimum done, let alone continue to meet the productivity standards you've set for yourself. "Sometimes, the fire is lost because of long hours, family sacrifices, a difficult boss, or shifting expectations, among other things," Reed Deshler told Forbes. "Identify whatever dampens your passion and see if you can change the situation. If not, it might be time to make a change."


Take a beat (possibly even some PTO) to consider what really makes you tick. What makes you want to get up in the morning, and what would give you a sense of purpose? You may find that none of those answers lie in your current job. Discovering your purpose is one of life's most complicated questions. If you are totally burned out at work and don't have the capacity to consider your passions and next steps, it's time to seek outside help.

Get outside help

If you've tried setting boundaries, taking PTO, and cutting back on the number of tasks you're taking but still feel exhausted, it's time to talk to a professional. First, find a qualified therapist who will help you set boundaries, discover your passions, and get to the root of why you've fallen into a toxic pattern of overwork. "When you can't change your circumstance, think about how you can change its effect on you or the way that you react to it," Jenny Maenpaa, a registered therapist, told My Well Being. "Therapy is a useful tool for helping you develop enough tools to store in your toolbox of coping skills so that when you can't change your stressors just yet, you are still able to put up a protective barrier between the stress and its impact on you."


If it sounds a little intimidating to dig into the complicated reasons you chose an exhausting job and can't seem to tear yourself away from it, therapy can be a time you schedule just for you. It's one hour a week, every two weeks, or even just once a month, where you don't have to talk or think about your job for a change. What you say in therapy is completely confidential and up to you. You could use the time to dig into your work habits or even just have a good cry if that's what you find you need.

Make time for fun

After a hectic day at work, you may want to flop down on the couch and watch TV, but finding an activity you're passionate about outside of your job, can actually help reenergize you and fight burnout. Hobbies can have a huge impact on your mental health. "Engaging in activities, particularly ones that help you feel connected to something — a mission, community, a belief system — are really valuable for people's mental health overall," Dr. Ken Duckworth told Fortune Well. In addition, passion projects offer mental stimulation, increase endorphins, and build your confidence.


If you spend a lot of time at work, your job and social life will inevitably become lumped together. A hobby can provide you with a social network built around your passions and interests, not your obligations. If you take a cooking class once a week, not only will your confidence in yourself to create great meals grow, but you'll also meet a lot of new people you can talk to about literally anything other than work. Whatever you choose to pursue, be it a book club, running club, or a ceramics class, just remember that you're on your own time now. So, silence your notifications and live fully in the moment while you can.

Set boundaries

This might be the most intimidating way to break out of your cycle of toxic productivity because it involves standing up to your boss — but it's so important. Setting boundaries is about more than just ensuring you can enjoy your free time. Boundaries also function to keep you rested and energized, enabling you to do your best work during working hours. "Without boundaries, you will never get any rest. Working without boundaries means you're on the fast track to burnout, stress, and exhaustion," Kate Sevilla said when speaking to Harpers Bazaar. "We need boundaries because they help us divide what is our personal life, what is our work, and where our attention needs to be devoted. It teaches people how to communicate with us and when to do so."


Boundaries can be as simple as clarifying with your boss that you will no longer be responding to emails or Slack messages during non-work hours or PTO. Sevilla recommended saying "something along the lines of, 'For me to be the most efficient at work, I need to start managing my schedule differently.'" Good managers will understand the importance of work-life balance and should be more than happy to accommodate you. Remember to stand firm in your boundaries, even if you receive pushback from your superiors. It's your life, and your time, and whatever's in that email can wait 'til tomorrow.