In an article about toxic productivity, the words Do More on a computer screen
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How Much Is Too Much: The Dangers of Toxic Productivity

In this day and age, the phrase 'I'll sleep when I’m dead’ takes on a new, darker meaning.
March 16, 2020
6 mins read

You might have seen posts like the ones below from Instagram accounts like @millionaire_mentor and @fuckmillionsmakebillions that promote working hard and success stories. These accounts target aspiring entrepreneurs, but because their posts are so vague they can apply to anyone with a goal to achieve. While the main purpose of these posts is to motivate readers to be productive, they can have unintended consequences.

Toxic productivity is very similar to workaholism or the hustle culture. These outlooks encourage people to exhaust themselves as much as possible on the road to success. It preaches ideals of meritocracy. This is the idea that if we work hard enough, we can achieve the goals we set. However, this set of goals doesn’t always ring true. Obviously working hard for what you want will help you obtain it, but the narrative that toxic productivity promotes is one that implies that if you work hard you will achieve everything you want.

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A common theme within these posts involves a ratio between the amount of sleep one should get and the amount of hours that can be put into a project or side hustle. This content glamorizes workaholism and obsessive productive tendencies. It seems like getting the most work done and getting the least amount of sleep possible is a competition. We all know sleep deprivation isn’t good for our health, but themes like this make it more and more synonymous with hard work and successful people. These posts imply that important things like sleep and mental health should take a backseat when in pursuit of success. Sacrificing sleep, mental health and social interactions is encouraged.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a good work ethic and wanting to work hard, but the way this new productive culture promotes it can be harmful. It can lead people to feel guilty when they feel like they aren’t doing all that they can to achieve their goals. An intense working culture can lead us to believe we are only having a good day if we’re being productive. Engaging in essential life routines like sleeping or spending time with friends can become a source of guilt. Toxic productivity cultures can effectively inspire us to work harder or cripple you with guilt if you don’t.

Toxic productivity inevitably also leads us to feeling burnt out. By working yourself to the point of exhaustion you eventually lose your will to do simple everyday things like texting someone back or cooking a meal. Burnout can also lead you to forgo hobbies — things that you do outside of your professional life to balance the amount of things that you do for fun and for work. If you’re constantly working while rarely engaging in hobbies, which allow you the opportunity to destress, you can see how easily it is to eventually stop doing everything all together. Burnout from overworking can make us feel even too tired to fulfill life obligations and commit to the hobbies that once made us happy.

These habits can cause many individuals who may enjoy their jobs to grow to hate it. Even if you like your job, overworking yourself can take a toll.

Besides promoting unsustainable work habits, some of these “inspirational” posts are often misleading. They often share the narrative that any dream is achievable if you work hard enough. They maintain the idea that any goal is achievable through a little hard work. But the term hard work is vague within itself and is left up for interpretation. For some people, hard work might equate to physically or mentally pushing themselves beyond their limit. However, pushing yourself too much in this way can be damaging to yourself and those around you.

This narrative also becomes problematic when we consider how impractical the “if you work hard enough you can do anything” narrative actually is. Some people don’t have the time to work hard. Some have jobs, school obligations or family to take care of. Additionally, even if you think you are working hard and doing everything you can, some goals still can’t be achieved by this alone. Hard work can certainly be in the recipe for success, but it’s not all you need to bake the cake. Sometimes, even if you’re working as hard as you possibly can, some dreams just don’t ever see themselves into fruition.

This mentality overwhelmingly ignores those who are successful due to nepotism. It disproportionately puts people, who may not have worked very hard, into positions of success and power. If you’re clouded by the mindset that working hard is all you need, you might forget that not all of the people you look up to may have worked hard to get there themselves.

Toxic productivity, workaholism and hustle culture all have overlapping definitions, but in general all of them romanticize hard work beyond exhaustion to meet a certain goal. This style of thought can have dangerous implications. It promotes unsustainable work habits which can lead to burnout and ignorance of essential life tasks. This mentality also pushes the idea that hard work is all you need to achieve your goals — something that is simply not true. This narrative neglects accounting for the reality that hard work is just a small part of what can ultimately make someone reach the goal they’ve set. While these ideas can sometimes help keep us motivated to work harder, overall, it can become a dangerous slippery slope leading to obsession and exhaustion.

Nayeli G. Pena, Colorado College

Writer Profile

Nayeli G. Peña

Colorado College
Business, Economics

Hi, I’m Nayeli. I love learning languages, traveling, cooking and finding cool new artists. I consume unhealthy amounts of chai, avocado and boba, and I’m obsessed with aesthetics, hence, my Instagram.

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