If you’re currently working from home and have been for a while now, you may be looking for new ways to freshen up your work day. Maybe you’re wondering how you can motivate yourself through that afternoon slump. What I’ve come to find is that productivity can be harmful in ways that both detriment your work and contribute to overall burnout and a decrease in motivation. In fact, Cal Newport‘s article in The New Yorker highlights exactly how toxic productivity culture can be. So, how do we make WFH (work from home) more productive while also acknowledging, maybe even (re)defining what it entails? How can we make productivity work for us rather than against us?
Let’s start by addressing it.
What Is Toxic Productivity?
For a reader mentioned in Newport’s article on the matter, “The [current] productivity terminology encodes not only getting things done, but doing them at all costs.” We as employees are expected to complete tasks regardless of the toll it may take on us. This may manifest in coworkers who work overtime to complete tasks and make everyone else look bad for not doing the same. It may also manifest in the way you regard your own work ethic and seeing yourself as unproductive and as such, less valuable.
Jenny Odell offers a great talk on the matter, and notes that working towards improving productivity isn’t as simple as not scrolling on your phone. It instead requires you to readdress what productivity means in your field and resist feeling guilty for not completing a task with a tangible finished product. Productivity can be measured in more healthy ways that examine even “unproductive” moments as being productive toward one’s thinking or overall wellness. It can be in learning or growing as an individual in ways that are not measurable.
Making Work from Home More Productive (and Healthy!)
1. (re)Define Productivity
Particularly with work from home and hybrid working models becoming increasingly popular, it is becoming increasingly important to re- or even define for the first time what being productive in your role means. Let’s start by asserting that your position is multifaceted. You will have many tasks within a day, and it may require you to approach it indirectly that may feel unproductive. Taking tasks step by step can help you feel your progress and movement toward your end goal. So, keep this in mind next time you’re feeling uneasy about how much you accomplished in a day.
2. (re)Think Your Priorities
This one was one I had neglected for the longest time because I had fallen into habits that were practical at one time. But with growth and shifts in goals, I’ve found that both my priorities and my practices around them have changed drastically. For one, I noticed that, like Daniel Markovitz mentions in his striking article on how to-do lists don’t work, I’ve been using ineffective methods in getting my tasks completed. This is because, as Markovitz notes, tasks vary in their importance and urgency. Instead, try blocking out your day on your calendar applications. This technique is called timeboxing, and it will help you emphasize where you will want to be spending your time on a weekly and daily scale.
3. (re)Claim Your Energy
Your time is precious, but so is your effort. It was while you worked in an office setting, and it will continue to be while you work from home. And no one knows better than you about what is a good or bad use of your effort. You know your tasks, your routine, what takes more or less energy out of you, and when you’re most motivated. So, as difficult as it may be, this may mean you will have to say ‘no’ to someone. With that said, there are ways you can go about saying ‘no’ to someone in a workplace respectfully but unapologetically. This shows that you value your energy. After all, how is anyone else going to value your energy if you don’t do so first?
4. (re)Focus and Find Ways to Refresh
According to Stress.org, 60% of Americans who work more than 50 hours a week feel burnt out. And certainly, this burn out is majorly driven by factors that are systemic and can’t simply be changed overnight. But what you can immediately change in your workplace is how you address and deal with stress and burn out. If you’re feeling your day isn’t as productive as you’d hoped, you may need to take some space from your work. Taking a walk, doing some deep breathing, and even using apps with soundscapes or guided meditations can offer you a mid-day reset.
5. Reflect and (re)Address your Task Every (Working) Day
As timeboxing requires, dedicate a part of your day to addressing a task you’ve been wanting to complete, and do this every day. If it’s writing a report, opening the file and making even minor changes will help you feel less overwhelmed or daunted by the task. And just as “out of sight, out of mind,” suggests, when it is in sight, it remains in your mind. This may allow you to readdress it in new ways you may not have thought to previously.
6. (dis)Connect and Refresh
With the above tip said, make sure you do not touch your work on days you have off. That means disconnecting entirely from your work device(s) entirely if possible, and if not, having a healthy separation between work and personal matters. Disconnecting from your work, both after hours during the week and on days off also means connecting meaningfully with non-work related things. Whether you use your time off to spend meaningful time with friends or family or doing something you enjoy unrelated to work, do so mindfully. In this way, you’ll be able to reconnect to your work feeling fulfilled from your time away from it.
Keep the Conversation Going…
Toxic productivity is rampant in many workplaces, particularly when its employees are working from home. Enforcing productivity guidelines can be ways of employers controlling worker habits when they’re not in-office. But this can lead to detrimental longterm effects on the employees and employers alike, just as the Great Resignation of 2021 showed.
Let’s bring about new ways of talking and practicing healthy productivity in the workplace. In what ways are you challenging ‘productivity’? How do you encourage healthy practices in yourself and in others? Let’s keep the conversation going and make real change starting now.