How Toxic Productivity Ruined My Mental Health and How I Bounced Back From It

Rest is just as important as productivity.
by Kyle Ramiel Dalangin   |  Aug 11, 2023
Image: Pexels Art: Anna Louise Flores
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Grabe, sobrang unproductive ko ngayon.” 

This is just one of the things I would tell myself whenever I fail to check all the tasks I need to do on my checklist. I would then beat myself up for it and proceed to rewrite my list, putting one too many items in one day just so I could compensate for my “unproductive” one. 

Now, this is completely reasonable if these tasks must be done ASAP and I procrastinated. Sadly, that isn’t usually the case. I sit in front of my laptop the whole day trying to complete all of my tasks, but sometimes, the 24 hours in a day just aren’t enough for all of them. Even after checking one to two things off my to-do list, if I see that I failed to do at least one thing, then it’s an “unproductive” day in my mind. I failed. I procrastinated (even if I didn’t). 

That was me a few years back, until I realized that I completely misunderstood the word “productivity.”

Realizing that my idea of productivity is toxic

After years and years of trying my best to check off everything in a constant to-do list, my mental health started to deteriorate, alongside my physical one. I started to sleep for a maximum of three hours. I started to lose my social life. I started to lose my motivation for everything, all at once. I have this urge to always be productive, and I wouldn’t rest until I felt like I deserved it. Then, realization hit me at the same time I fell into a bad fever.

During the week of being stuck in my bed, I realized a huge mistake. My idea of productivity is nothing but a harmful desire to accomplish a lot, even if it means neglecting my own health and that of others. As my mental health plummeted, I also shoved away a lot of supportive people in my life. I had no energy to talk to people. What I think I need is to finish all the tasks at hand. My body then got revenge, forcing me to rest as I struggled to open my eyes or eat. Maybe, being productive at all times does not matter if I’ll be spending my time on my bed for the next few weeks, crying from the pain of a headache.


Bouncing back from burnout

I had to change, then. I had to change the cycle I was so used to. The first step I did was to scrap the checklist I tried so hard to plan. I made a new one—the one that is reasonably timed with vacant slots in between so I could get some rest. I also started to prioritize my sleeping schedule. Before, I would sleep at dawn and wake up in the morning feeling dizzy and tired. Now, I try to sleep between 10 or 11 PM and wake up at 6 or 7 AM. That way, I have a full eight hours of sleep.

Doing this has actually helped me a lot not just in terms of health, but productivity itself. I produce higher quality output, the ones I am satisfied with. I have enough energy to do more work because I also spend less time working than before. While it took me a bit of time to get used to this, it’s been improving my life for the better.

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While I recognize that there are people who can’t afford to spend a huge amount of time resting, it’s not bad to just take a bit of time to sleep more, watch videos more, or listen to music more. There are days when it’s okay to not be productive. It’s okay if you just can’t get yourself to finish your tasks. So long as you have enough time, try to rest because that’s what your body needs. Keep in mind, though, that procrastination and neglect are a different story. Managing your time well is the key to being productive.

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Kyle Ramiel Dalangin
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