Merriam-Webster defines productive as “effective in bringing about; yielding results, benefits, or profits” [1]. Yes, setting goals and aiming for specific outcomes is a good thing. Being productive allows us to provide for ourselves (and our families) while contributing to our local community and society. It offers a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But some of us take it too far. We lose our zest for life in the hustle to get more done. 

The Dark Side of Productivity

Keep hustling no matter what. Downtime is for slackers. Suck it up and get it done. When productivity becomes an addiction, we push our bodies and minds past their limits. We become exhausted, irritable shells of who we used to be. Our relationships suffer. We’re too busy working and strategizing how to be more efficient to be fully present with others, even the people who mean the most to us. So, if any of this sounds familiar, take a moment to pause.

Recognize toxic productivity by answering these 6 questions

  1. Are you filling every waking minute of your day with projects and tasks?
  2. Do you let yourself have fun?
  3. Are you mentally and physically drained but feel guilty for resting? 
  4. No matter how much you accomplish in a day, do you always think you should have done more? 
  5. Is part of you afraid to slow down?
  6. Are you fully present when interacting with others, or is your mind thinking about to-do’s and goals?

Be honest with yourself. You might not like your answers. It’s okay. Sometimes, we miss the glaring side effects of our toxic habits. But once we’re aware, it’s up to us to go within and change our ways. 

So, what are you avoiding?

Many people unconsciously use productivity to avoid “negative” emotions. As long as you’re busy, you don’t have time to feel sadness, fear, or anger. Or maybe you aren’t ready to deal with a challenging situation quite yet. It’s kind of like using drugs, alcohol, or food to escape reality — except others may pat you on the back for being super productive, not realizing it’s become a toxic coping strategy.

What to do?

The best approach? Seek professional assistance from a licensed counselor or psychologist if the emotions (or situations) are too overwhelming. Then, begin the process of facing your feelings and challenging experiences. Let yourself cry. Scream into a pillow. Releasing repressed emotions (in a safe way) frees space for your mind to focus on other things – such as creating work-life balance, learning how to rest without guilt, and even having fun.



Taking the first step

I’ll share more tips for breaking the habit of toxic productivity in my next article, but admitting you’ve crossed over to the dark side is the first step in finding balance. You aren’t a machine. There’s more to life than being productive and working 24/7. Luckily, your zest for life hasn’t disappeared forever; it’s patiently waiting for your permission to come out of hiding. 


Come back in two weeks to read Danielle’s next article on Balanced Living. You can sign up for Danielle’s Joyful Rising email newsletters to receive access to a free 5-minute mindfulness meditation for stress & anxiety at



  1. productive. (n.d.). The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary. Retrieved June 14, 2021, from



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Fifteen years of professional experience in nutrition & bodywork fields and eight years of small business ownership taught Danielle Ratliff to value balanced living over hustle. Rising from the ashes of trauma, mental illnesses, burnout, and societal expectations led to an awakening. Now she empowers overwhelmed humans with guided meditations and articles so they can calm their minds and create aligned, joyful lives. Learn more at or contact her directly at









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