Toxic Productivity

Toxic productivity is defined as being so productive to the point where other aspects of your life are at risk, according to PsychologyToday. Whether that be hanging out with friends or family, getting a proper amount of sleep, or even your health.


This cycle can make students feel more productive and initially get them the results they wanted, but once in the midst of toxic habits, the end might not be clear.


“I feel like if I’m not doing something if my grades aren’t good, then I feel like I’m a failure or I’m a disappointment,” senior Dorian Bruni said. “If I’m not constantly doing something, I feel like something bad’s gonna happen.”


Toxic productivity leaves you with a feeling that no matter how hard you work, there’s always more to do, according to Trello. 


“I feel guilty when I’m not doing the things I promised myself I would do,” said junior International Baccalaureate student Joyce Lin. “I don’t want to not work hard, people are always like ‘try your best’ but at what point does your best become a bunch of all-nighters in a row? I don’t ever know when the balance is right because I feel like I can’t be balanced if I’m not completing my homework or finishing my assignments.”


Becoming a person who is associated with constantly being busy can become a charade that is difficult to maintain.


“I just think it’s important to not fall into that trap of who’s struggling the most because I feel like struggle doesn’t always equate to working hard,” junior IB student Jillian Stanton said. “And I feel we can get kind of trapped in that idea of ‘oh, she’s doing so much, she’s up so late, she’s so busy with this and that’s like you’re not thinking of what they’re actually doing that’s causing that toxic cycle of just trying to outdo each other all the time.” 


Toxic productivity can also grow when surrounded by competitive peers. While competition isn’t always a bad thing, too much competition can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety towards school.


“Whenever you have to get a lot of stuff done in a very short amount of time and in close quarters with a lot of people, there’s a lot of stress involved,” junior Nathan Beeman said. “A lot of pressure that your peers are putting on you to get stuff done. There’s a lot of toxic productivity in that setting, and you really feel it because it makes it where it’s destroying relationships between you and your peers.”


This cycle of working until you drop could seem like the only solution when drowning in work, 

but there are serious consequences that will give the opposite results anticipated.


“When you encourage students to prioritize, everything is a priority with the mindsets of some students, so genuinely making sure that sleep and eating are a priority,” support counselor Jennifer Atencio said. “Because when you’re not doing those things it has an overarching impact on every aspect of your life, your ability to focus and concentrate in class, your ability to not make mistakes when working problems.”


Falling into the cycle of toxic productivity may come after a long period of procrastination. 


“When I have conversations with students and they say ‘well, I’m up ‘till two,’ when we break down what’s occurring between 4:30[p.m.] and 2 a.m., there’s a lot of extra built-in,” Atencio said. “Some of it is needed for decompression, students need some downtime, just to play video games or listen to music or hang out with friends, which is obviously highly encouraged, but some will spend an hour scrolling through social media and are like ‘oh yes, I need to work on that paper.’”


Making one final push to do everything in one night does not do someone justice, it is one of the most recognized symptoms of toxic productivity.


“I think the workload can affect [toxic productivity], really depending on how you manage your time and if you’re not really reflecting on yourself and like your habits,”  junior IB student Lily Harrison said.


Pushing yourself past your breaking point creates burnout which may come out physically in frequent illness and fatigue, emotionally in self-doubt and cynicism and behaviorally through increased irritability and isolation, according to Midwestern University.


“Some of the symptoms I see in burnout is anxiousness and just a general sense of being overwhelmed,” Atencio said. “So [I’ll ask] how is that impacting your physical and mental health? And what steps are you open to doing to address it? And what’s your priority? A need versus a want, like what do you absolutely have to do or need to do and what’s all the extra stuff?”


Being in a constant state of burnout is overwhelming, but taking a step back, reassessing habits and prioritizing tasks can help break the cycle.


“When you feel like there’s water in your lungs, it’s not time to let yourself sink because you’re not drowning yet,” Beeman said. “And you won’t because there are people who care about you, and will assist you through that.”


IB Theory of Knowledge teacher Karen Hunnicut says that “helping others is also a good way to help yourself” because it takes someone out of their head, but also keeps them occupied.


“What I have found is that I work a lot, so I can work up to 25 to 30 hours a week on top of going to school but I found that going to work actually really helps you with [toxic productivity] because we’re not always doing stuff at work and there’s downtime,” Bruni said. “I found that going to work really helps to calm me and help me not feel so wound up [or] that I have to be doing something.”


Breaking down the workload piece by piece can make the tasks seem less overwhelming and something to tackle day by day rather than all at once.


“So one of the things that we build in the IB program is being balanced, one of those profile traits, and teaching kids how to be self-aware enough to know ‘ I’m not really balanced right now, not getting enough of the positive productivity,’” Hunnicut said. “Researcher Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi writes about flow, and it basically means those things that you’re engaged in or you lose track of time that you really enjoy, like reading a book, talking to friends, it might be playing a sport or playing an instrument art.”


Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura are the psychologists that popularized the term “flow space.” This space is described by a highly focused mindset which creates a productive mindset, according to Csikszentmihalyi in a 2004 Technology, Education and Design, commonly shorted to TED, talk. Devoting full attention passionately to one activity or task, eliminating distractions and create specific, achievable goals are some of the ways to get into flow state, according to BetterUp.


“I think especially in advanced academics, we’ve just gotten used to [toxic productivity] without taking a step back to be like, ‘oh, this isn’t normal,’” Stanton said. “Like you should have free time, you should have friends and relationships outside of school. I feel like we’ve just been kind of conditioned to think that it’s all normal to like give up on the rest of your interests and stuff for school, especially if you only have friends that are in all AP classes or all IB classes like that kind of the culture feeds on itself.”