Why Is Toxic Productivity Dangerous?

Toxic productivity is an insidious and under-recognized problem that plagues modern workers. It's also an epidemic. Learn how to protect your time, work life, and sanity.

Toxic Productivity

After a considerable spike in productivity levels in 2020, there came 2022.

And suddenly, productivity got a bad rap of quiet quitting, escalating rates of burnout, and lowered effectiveness.

Among the reasons, there is a pandemic, a global shift to new modes of work (remote and hybrid), and, ironically, a pursuit of productivity that gets toxic.

Checklist for Toxic Productivity

I have become a cluttered mess with the pace at which I need to do all of my daily tasks, as well as the things I need to do to be successful in life.

Red flags signaling you are suffering from being extra productive start to be visible when it becomes a typical description of your working days.  

When does striving for efficiency take the form of toxic productivity?

It is certainly on your radar when you tick the yes box in replying to the questions below.

words yes and no on the black background
  • Is productivity the only option you have because you feel compelled to choose it?
  • Do you put your productivity before your wellbeing?
  • Do you prioritize productivity over family and friends?
  • Is your lack of production making you feel guilty?

Toxic productivity is the uncontrolled need to always be productive at all costs, which leads to chronic stress and burnout.

It's accompanied by the desire to be constantly doing something and the guilt of not doing enough.

Hazards of Toxic Productivity

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Toxic productivity isn't just a bad habit, it's a severe problem that can take a toll on your health, relationships, and business.

Productivity Overdrive

The hyper-productivity mindset glorifies workaholism and obsession with achievement. Working as much as possible and sleeping as little as possible seems at the core of this outlook, which was celebrated by Musk and his expectation of employees' working 80 hours per week.

In spite of the fact that sleep deprivation isn't good for our health, hard work at the cost of sleep and free time is strongly associated with success.

As a result, we start to believe that having a productive day is the only way to feel good, especially in an intense working culture. When toxic productivity engrains itself as a routine, it influences your behavior and motivates you to work harder and harder or feel guilty if you don't.

Overall, being entrapped by toxic productivity puts unnecessary intellectual and physical pressure on your work and life. Symptoms of this type of behavior include:

  • Permanent stress
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Digestive problems
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Immunocompromised conditions.  

Below you will find 7 actionable steps on how to stop toxic productivity, break a vicious cycle and start improving your life.

How to Stop Toxic Productivity  

#1️⃣ Learn to say no  

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When to say no:

  • Do not accept tasks that will compromise your primary job responsibilities
  • Do not work over tasks that are assigned to another person/department.
  • In case of extra work, it's important to understand the full extent of additional responsibilities before saying yes.

How to say no:

  • Do it in a positive way
  • Bring relatability to the reply.

Rather than starting with a flat no, relate your reason to the account. For example, "If I take these extra tasks now, it will break everybody's timeline and negatively impact team workflow."

#2️⃣ Minimize your time on social media

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More often than not, walking into a trap of toxic productivity starts with ignoring small things like taking a healthy break. Instead, we switch from work to scrolling through the newsfeed on our social media and finish by losing the boundary on work time.

Meanwhile, the negative impact of social media on healthy routines is widely recognized and well-known.

The solution is self-evident: do not consider your time on social media as the break time – it is counterproductive and harmful to your physical and mental health.

#3️⃣ Invest in maintaining work life balance

words invest in work life balance

Make it a rule to have free time and fill it with activities you truly enjoy, – it is a must for effective recharge.  

Besides, make a conscious effort to take a break from some activities you do purely out of habit, such as checking your email every 5 minutes. It will help in the prevention of burnout.

By implementing a time tracker that integrates into your work easily, you are taking an effective measure against overwork. Aside from precise time calculations, you set healthy boundaries on work time.

#4️⃣Optimize your communication

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Overwork and task failure are often caused by poor communication. To optimize it, you can try easy-to-follow tips:

✅ By eliminating unnecessary, multi-tiered conversations, you can avoid busyness, one of the factors of digital fatigue.

✅ Balance your roles as an active listener and an efficient speaker.

✅ Keep communication effective by making one point at a time and prioritizing clarity in speech delivery.  

✅ Not to walk on eggshells and keep it within a professional workflow, avoid sensitive topics.

#5️⃣Avoid the meeting madness

words reduce the number of meetings

The simplest way to achieve workplace productivity without overstretching yourself is to avoid time-consuming, unproductive meetings whenever possible.

A recent survey showed a considerable increase in productivity by 71% when the number of meetings was reduced by 40%.

And fully remote Zapier went as far as canceling all the meetings on Zoom for a week: the experiment went well and is expected to be on repeat in 2023.

Attend only those where the agenda is clear and one of the following purposes is stated:

  • the meeting is about sharing important information that cannot be communicated by email
  • the meeting will solve a specific problem
  • the meeting will end with decision-making
  • the meeting is a discussion of a team's performance upon project completion/after an incident, etc.

#6️⃣Set realistic goals

words set realistic goals

Do not try to meet all the hustle culture requirements blindly. If not, it will set you in a mode of unrealistic expectations and make you feel guilty: 'aiming at too much' can get in your own way and cloud your vision.

If you feel that goalposts keep changing and you are moving away from job satisfaction, it is time to check and review the goals.

You can choose from multiple goal-setting approaches not to feel energy-drained or overwhelmed.

#7️⃣ Keep your to-do list practical

words keep your to-do list practical

When piling up tasks for the day and creating practical to-do lists, follow the rule of 'less is more'.

It comes down to remembering what NOT to do.

For to-do lists, it is not overexpanding your task list. Ideally, there should not be more than 9 optimally-prioritized items on your daily to-do list, with one big-scaled task, three medium, and five small tasks.

For those who are ready to go minimalistic, there is a great free task management app Five that limits your to-do list to 5 tasks only.

Taking this approach allows you:

To-do lists that do not push you into overdrive are utterly important in two aspects:

  • for having a productive rather than busy day
  • for building sustainable behavior.


Toxic productivity can be a real problem in today's world, where our phones are glued to our hands, we spend less and less time on personal activities, and we're forced to be on 24/7.

Toxic productivity is a term that describes the phenomenon when employees allow uncontrolled work time to cause stress and negatively impact their work. This can lead to missed deadlines, poor performance, and ultimately, lost productivity and burnout.

Aside from keeping people working long hours and neglecting their after-work and sleep routine, it is a dangerous practice that can compromise health and create imbalance permanently.

Fortunately, there are ways of stopping toxic productivity that are easy to follow for seeing results almost immediately.