I’ve begun to notice that when I ask friends and colleagues how they’re doing, their response is often, “I’m busy!” Honestly, I’ve been guilty of it, too. We are all working a lot, pushing ourselves to do more and feeling like there is an endless task list with time flying by. This burning need to finish just one more thing is stretching us so thin that we are developing physical and mental exhaustion, and it’s making us sick. It’s become so common that there’s a name for it: toxic productivity.
Productivity has always been the ideal status achievement. Who doesn’t want to get things done? It has become a badge of honor to see who is doing the most. But when we add more and more on our plates and feel pressure to keep going to the point of chronic fatigue, it becomes a problem. Our stress levels go up, we lose focus, we make more mistakes, and it takes us longer to get through our work. Yes, we’re working longer hours and getting less done!
We’re seeing this parallel epidemic of busyness with Covid-19 because being productive has given us some semblance of normalcy and control while the world turned upside down. Our nervous systems are trying to make sense of the discord and find a way to keep us feeling safe. Checking off things from our to-do list gives us a little boost, and we get addicted to chasing that dopamine hit. But the changes in our biochemistry that result from high cortisol (stress hormone), lack of sleep, and sedentary habits can lead to long-term health issues.
If you recognize this pattern in your own work routine, there are changes that you can make to calm your anxiety and set boundaries around your time.
Be intentional about your time
Take a step back and figure out what your most important tasks are. Are you purposeful when you work or do you get easily distracted? Be mindful of your busyness, what, when, and how much you are doing, and reduce the time you spend on things that aren’t getting you closer to your goals. Creating a joyful ritual (I love making a chai or matcha) that starts your day can help you get into the zone. At the end of the day, wind down with something relaxing and put away your laptop, signaling to your brain that you are off the clock.
Our brains are not designed to be focused and in full concentration for hours on end. Every so often (research says about 40-50 minutes), find ways to meaningfully detach from your work. Some of my favorites include taking a nature walk, doing a few yoga poses, writing in my gratitude journal, and video chatting with my twin baby niece and nephew. Resist the urge to scroll social media, which can suck you in to a much longer break than intended.
Release the perfectionism
One of the ways that our nervous system attempts to regain control during a state of frenzied busyness is by making sure that everything is completely flawless. Chasing perfectionism in even the most mundane tasks (should I use an exclamation point or an emoji in this email to my colleague?!) can eat up a huge portion of our schedule. Put your best effort into your work but keep in mind that perfect doesn’t exist. If you still fear that making a mistake could have terrible consequences for your job or life, ask yourself if this role is worth that pain.
Looking for more ways to destress? Check out how to manage pandemic stress with Ayurveda