The weekend is here but instead of kicking back and relaxing, your mind is occupied with a flurry of work-related thoughts. There are emails and actions that need taking care of, while it can be done on Monday you decide to log in. This is the case with many of us, we find ways to keep ourselves occupied, hustling to get things completed now.  This attitude of constantly needing to work or do something seeps down into our daily routines. We find ourselves taking fewer breaks, eating while getting work done and thinking about our next undertaking.

While it does feel productive to get things done and cross out actions from to-do lists, constant immersion in work or being preoccupied with it and especially experiencing guilt for not having done much is related to something called Toxic Productivity.  Toxic productivity is an obsession with radical self-improvement and causes us to set high unachievable standards for ourselves. No matter how productive we are, there persists a feeling of guilt for not having done more. When you do experience toxic productivity, you feel irritable, moody and grumpy even if you have spent the whole day being productive.

Empirical evidence has suggested your brain will eventually reach exhaustion and burnout will be inevitable.  Researchers have found that constantly working makes you become significantly less productive. Over time creativity gets stifled, formulation of new ideas is slower and you spend more time completing a task. Constant overworking also impacts both physical and mental health.

What can we do to avoid this reality?
  • Rest and take breaks: Scientists have out rightly cited the need for rest and breaks. Rest is not reserved only for the weak. Getting sufficient rest in the form of breaks, sleep, time off that involves disconnecting from work is crucial. It not only allows your brain to recharge but also leaves you rejuvenated. Rest is known to promote mental health, boost creativity, increase productivity, promote well-being, reduce stress and improve mood. If you do feel guilty when you feel like taking time off, try reframing what rest means to you. You can reframe rest to be a pivotal tool to help you attain your goals and a springboard to take on new challenges with renewed vigour.
  • Napping: Researchers have found that taking short naps is an effective tool that helps recharge you mentally, increase alertness and decrease fatigue.
  • Make note of your accomplishments: While you can be easily worn down by dissatisfaction and the associated feelings of toxic productivity, it is important to list what you have accomplished to date. Making yourself aware of past success allows you to focus on what is important and needs to be done, while also increasing self-esteem.
  • Set realistic goals and avoid comparison: It is essential we consider the context, our capabilities and the time we have available when we set our goals. Goal setting needs to be realistic and objective, while also reviewing and taking stock of what needs adjustment from time to time.
  • Micro breaks: The idea of micro-breaks is taking small, frequent breaks throughout that day. In essence, it is any short break you take from work. It can range from speaking to a friend/colleague, sipping on coffee, stretching etc. During work, the Pomodoro technique is a great way to stay on task while also taking breaks.
  • Spend time doing something other than work once a week: In related experiments, people were instructed to take one day off every week while executives accustomed to working every evening were told to keep one evening work-free. Over time both groups reported a better work-life balance, increased focus and being more productive. More time spent working doesn’t equate better quality or quantity of work done.

As quoted by John Lubbock, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

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