PRODUCTIVITY DONE BACKWARDS: How Toxic Productivity Negatively Impacts People During the Pandemic

PRODUCTIVITY DONE BACKWARDS: How Toxic Productivity Negatively Impacts People During the Pandemic

Story by Kim Thea Tan

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Since the beginning of the CoVid-19 pandemic, most of our stress levels have reached an all-time high. From trying to find a way to make ends meet, to attempting to wrap our heads around the unpredictability that surrounds us; we begin to lose ourselves into either idleness or work. Both sides of this spectrum are obviously unhealthy, but it seems society finds the latter more acceptable.

A study has shown that at least three of every five Filipino workers feel overworked, and around a third of them feel exhausted. This is especially the case when work and home life begin to overlap and we start to think we are able to bite more than we can chew. That is where our once admirable efficiency becomes a case of toxic productivity. Productivity is said to be a marker for success, but when our self-worth begins to be defined by it; will it truly bring success or only its lifelike illusion?

Toxic productivity—also known to some as action-bias—is a term that typically describes the desire or need to be productive at all times, even at the expense of our own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. It is this state of driving ourselves to keep going the extra mile even when it is not expected of us. There is nothing wrong with putting our best into everything we do, but it does become a problem when we go on to the next project without so much as a breath in between. We keep going and going, but no matter how much we’ve accomplished; we keep feeling like it isn’t enough to the point that a simple break makes us feel guilty because we feel as though we are going to be left behind. If any of these seem familiar, then you, too, have most likely been caught in the snare.

When Working More is Less

We have been stuck in our homes the moment our cities were put under lockdown. As Dr. Joanne Barron, co-founder of Trauma and Beyond Psychological Center, put it during an interview, “We work more; we’re on zoom all the time and now, because we’re not going home at the end of the day, we’re working from morning to night.”

More and more people have been working longer hours and taking less sleep. Although a reason could be something that cannot be helped like when higher-ups want their employees to work longer hours and be available at all times, another cause has more to do with the person themselves and their ambition, pride, guilt, enjoyment, and all other emotional drives they may possess. They have this belief that working longer helps them achieve more. However, multiple studies have shown that overworking ourselves to the point of sleep deprivation can lead to a number of health problems. “Sleep is for the weak”, or so the saying goes but in reality, sleep is for our own good.

According to Healthline, sleep is necessary to keep our body functioning properly. One of the most common effects of the lack of it is moodiness, irritability, impulsivity, and “brain fog”, which is the feeling of being “out of it” or the inability to think straight. Without a proper amount of sleep, our immune system is also prevented from strengthening its forces because infection-fighting proteins such as cytokines and antibodies are usually produced while we are sleeping.

Another thing, students who work throughout the day are exposed to their screens for hours upon hours a day that exceed the maximum screen time suggested by the Department of Education (DepEd). This exposure also gives rise to many problems such as eye strain. In addition, many have also been leading sedentary lifestyles due to sitting in front of their desks all day working, which could cause multiple lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, anxiety, diabetes, etc.

Strains of Society's Glorification

Not only does this sort of warped work ethic affect us physically, but also mentally and emotionally. We don’t realize it, but we begin to distance ourselves from others and it can strain our relationships to the point where socializing makes us feel restless or agitated for no reason. From then, we continue to endure and shelf away our stress over and over as our flames roar bright until the day we burn out, and all we feel is that cold numbness that even success cannot thaw.

The most harmful thing about this problem is how most of our society and our culture view it. Many people talk about how they have only been getting three or two hours of sleep as they work 20 or so hours a day, and yet these remarks are met with praise for them working so hard instead of being met with concern and wonder if that person is working too hard. Other times, some students even seem to compare and compete on who had the least amount of rest. In the end, no one is really winning because we are all losing sleep. It begs the question, when did neglecting our own basic needs become something to be proud of? When did burnout—physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion caused by repeated stress—become something treated as normal and even glorified in the eyes of many?

It's Never Too Late

Now, once we have assessed the problem and ourselves, as well as acknowledged their effects on us; we can then begin to start breaking ourselves free from any further destruction. Old habits are said to die hard, so we just need to put in our effort into becoming better. So, we need to slow down and take it one step at a time toward this problem’s exit.

First things first, we need to realize that we are human beings with our own set of limits. We need to remember that we are allowed to feel tired and we are allowed to rest. We need to start establishing healthy boundaries, which means remembering to take a break, and actually taking it instead of keeping our laptop, tablet or phone open while we rest. When eating, let us try to stop checking our phones for any notifications, and put ourselves on a tight schedule with the goal of sleeping on time in mind.

Parkinson’s Law states that our work expands to fill the time we were given for its completion. This means that the more time we have, the more we fill it with other trivial matters in between, causing us to take longer to finish. To solve this, we can try setting our own personal deadlines shorter and prioritize the tasks we have at hand to help us achieve more in much less time.

Self-discipline also plays an important role in this process. It is okay to finish the tasks we are assigned with, but we need to let ourselves take a short breather before hopping on to the next thing on the list. You can listen to some music, read, stretch, etc. to get rid of those unwarranted feelings of guilt and failure a little at a time.

Control is the Middle Ground

In a world turned upside down, we are left with unpredictability and darkness. We turn to work and lose ourselves into doing, struggling to win back some semblance of control over our lives. However, that is not what is happening. We are not winning anything by losing ourselves to work.

True control is not found on either side of the spectrum between idleness and work. We fear to land on the former side, giving in to indolence and procrastination—and those fears are valid—but we need to see the shadow that hides behind the seeming brightness we, as a society, see of the other side. True control lies in the healthy middle ground.

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