We live in a world that is obsessed with the hustle culture. The narrative that if you aren’t doing a million and one things simultaneously, you aren’t being productive enough has been drilled into our heads to the point of exhaustion. With productivity apps and to-do lists that seem to be growing faster than we can cut things off, demotivation and overwhelm have become our constant state of being; like two little monsters sitting on our backs.
While we have to get things done (we all have jobs we can’t afford to lose!), the need to be constantly productive has taken over our life. Basics like sleep and self-care have to be scheduled and that is taking a toll on our mental and physical health. And when we finally crash with overstimulation and decide to spend a Sunday just being a couch vegetable, we’re hit with pangs of guilt and shame. If this is your current reality, you’re dealing with productivity anxiety.
Essentially, productivity anxiety is the overwhelming fear of never being able to do enough. No matter how many hours you spend sitting at your desk and staring at Excel sheets, you’re never truly satisfied with what you’ve accomplished throughout the day because your list of tasks never ends. We spoke to counselling psychologist Dr Nisha Khanna, who explained, “Productivity anxiety is when you feel anxious to perform. It could be because you’re not satisfied enough with your job or you’ve taken on a task that you can’t complete. It may also be that you find the task at hand unproductive and a waste of your time and energy.” This might be caused by you setting unrealistically high expectations for yourself, which eventually leads to feeling guilty for not getting ahead of the never-ending task list. This constant itch to do something at all times can lead to burnout and anxiety in other areas of your life as well. Like we don’t have enough of that already!
According to Dr Khanna, if you cannot manage your stress well and work for longer hours without getting up from your seat because taking a break feels illegal but isn’t, Dr Khanna says it’s a telltale sign of productivity anxiety. And you’re not alone. Research conducted by Microsoft Surface shows that 63 per cent of people are now reaching a point of ‘stress overload’ because of their ever-growing to-do lists, with 42 per cent feeling that they’re falling behind when it comes to the number of tasks to get done every day.
If you are wondering what you can do to ease your anxiety and lower the expectations you have of yourself, read on to know how you can do away with toxic productivity and forge a better relationship with your work.
Switch off your notifications
According to Dr Khanna, the first thing you need to do is switch off your work notifications once your daily working hours are over. She says, “The moment we read a notification, we tend to reply or think about work. This doesn’t help you detox from work. You are in a constant state of hypervigilance. To unwind, mute all notifications.”
This means, to get out of the vicious cycle of productivity anxiety, we must draw strict work-life boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed unless in a live-or-die situation. And no, your boss’s 2:00 a.m. email with the subject line ‘URGENT’ doesn’t cut it. To work more effectively and not feel like you aren’t doing enough with your day, you must learn how to switch off and relax first. Ironic, isn’t it?
Set reasonable expectations for yourself
Perfectionism is overrated. Expecting yourself to complete 70 tasks at once only leads to anxiety and procrastination. You’ll feel unnecessary dread for not completing those tasks and whatever you achieved will seem negligible. Hence, setting realistic expectations for yourself is crucial to break out of the toxic productivity cycle.
Manage your energy wisely
Look at your task list every morning and make mental notes of the tasks you simply need to cut off and the ones that will help you grow. By doing so, you will know how much energy to spend on each task and not end up spending all on something where you could’ve just done a decent job or something that isn’t going to help you in the long run.