5am morning routines, checking your emails every three minutes, overwhelming guilt as a result of choosing Netflix over the gym, a feeling that you’re never doing enough even though you feel as though you never stop working. You’re addicted to toxic productivity! But, rest assured, you’re not the only one. Young people are the most affected by this social pandemic, facilitated by the ‘hustle culture’ promoted via social media means most people you know will probably be experiencing the same effects of this skewed, addictive, negative mentality. Whether they’re aware of it or not.
‘Toxic productivity’ is essentially feelings of guilt or anxiety as a result of depending your worth on how much work you do or how productive you are. While being productive and having routine, and often working overtime can help promote success in whichever aspect of life you want to succeed, overworking and stretching yourself too thin will ultimately lead to burn out and subsequent impaired performance. Alongside this, the lines between a work and home life balance have become blurred due to the pandemics introduction of working from home as a norm. Making it difficult to distinguish a time to clock off and relax.
The relationship between stress and anxiety has interested me since studying psychology during my A-Levels, with one study in particular sticking with me into my now early twenties. Navigating the 24-hour city that is London, the pressure to utilise every waking minute with the intention of improving your career, your side hustle, or your body, gets you in its grips relatively quickly. Yerkes- Dodson Law, also known as the inverted U model of Arousal, is a model of the relationship between stress and task performance. Essentially the model simply aims to visualise productive levels of stress and anxiety, stating that a moderate feeling of stress is beneficial in terms of your productivity. This made a lot of sense to me, with a moderate feeling of stress often being a motivator to get work done. This point of productivity and stress is shown as the peak point of the inverted ‘U’. Too much anxiety and stress however, end in performance impairment. Essentially taking on too much and working too much will result in feelings of being overwhelmed, with your brain unable to deliver or function with productivity levels hitting a 0. Being someone who says yes to every opportunity despite not necessarily having the time (like many other people working freelance), the Yerkes- Dodson Law makes a lot of sense.
During my research into toxic productivity, I stumbled across the book ‘Essentialism’ by Greg McKeown, well known for its straight-forward ideals surrounding toxic productivity and time-management. The ideas discussed within this book favour a very similar attitude toward productivity to that of Yerkes- Dodson Law. In short, McKeown argues that saying no to work opportunities or social commitments can actually benefit your productivity. He helps the reader to understand the basis of essentialism, explaining that instead of channelling energy into 10 different projects, jobs or social commitments, concentrating on one or two of these commitments, (more often or not the ones that benefit yourself more than others) will lead to greater productivity and success. McKeown urges the reader to learn the power of saying no, and not seeing this as a bad thing. He suggests that boundaries are a source of liberation, with much of the book exploring this concept in varying examples and case studies. Throughout, McKeown ends back at the same argument that concentrating your energy toward one main goal, with all mental focus channelling to this one thing, will lead to more success. Although this makes sense, as a millennial wanting to do everything and burn the candle at both ends- I still struggle with the idea of turning opportunities down. Unsurprisingly, this mentality that is deeply engrained within me, is most likely a result of subconscious social media pressure and an unhealthy relationship with toxic productivity and hustle culture. Growing up with social media as an often helpful, insightful yet clingy third arm, makes it difficult to distinguish yourself from ideas such as toxic productivity and essentialist practices.
Whatever your opinion, educating yourself on the benefits of both helps to form better judgments of what work to take on and when to say no. Something that we all need a little more help with.
Words by Rosie Bell