Time Management

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Toxic Productivity

Toxic Productivity is an unhealthy need to always be productive, no matter what the cost. It is the desire to do something at all times and feeling guilty for all the things that one hasn’t done yet.

The pandemic made those still having a job a virtual work martyr, working extra hard just because having a job in these uncertain times was so precious in itself. Work becomes a reason to feel worthy, in control and fulfilled.

@kevinrw767

Time Management

For many people being constantly productive is a way to mask the stress and discomfort of a personal or global crisis, where we focus on our immediate environment and on the things that are in our control, not realizing that this can lead to burnout and bad relationships.

One can also become short-tempered and frustrated in general, lashing it out on their loved ones.

Look for red flags in your thinking: Work-related guilt, a feeling of not doing enough, or feeling concerned if it seems like time has been wasted and could have been made productive. Fatigue and exhaustion also make the list of things that point towards being trapped in a ‘toxic productivity’ cycle.

We normally ask ourselves what best should be done to make the present moment productive. We should make ourselves at ease and ask what can be done to reduce stress.

Productivity exists more in our heads, and not so much in our work environments.

If you are extremely productive by toiling for hours, your boss does not care, even though he or she may be impressed by your accomplishments. Bosses want you to deliver quality work on time, not caring about how many hours and missed sleep went into it.

Self-care means different things to different people. Some like to jog in the morning or have a tea break in the afternoon. Some like to binge watch Netflix shows while eating their favourite junk food.

The pandemic has made everyone more anxious, and this is not good for the body, which needs rest, care and nurturing more than ever.

Most workers, blue-collar or white, wake up every day as workers, not as free human beings.

One needs to understand that our work isn’t our sole identity, and we need to detach ourselves emotionally from our profession. We can demonstrate our competence and work hard while making sure our individuality and personal life do not suffer.

Many workers have a hard time grasping the meaning of work-life balance, especially in the US. Vacation time is non-existent and most people are overworked during the pandemic. It is impossible to log off from work and see the world with fresh eyes when most of them are busy being busy.

Toxic productivity has its tentacles on many workplace employees who believe they should be doing something productive, instead of doing what is good for them.

Work and rest are partners

The better you get at resting, the more energy and creativity you bring to your work.

Proper rest is not just a passive rest. Real rest that leaves you energized and inspired involves three essential elements:

  1. Relaxing your mind
  2. Relaxing your body
  3. Relaxing your expectations.

If you have ever gotten in bed but your mind race with all the unfinished tasks, to-dos, and scenarios you replay in your mind, then you will know the importance of relaxing your mind.

To relax your mind, close any open loops and follow a 'shut down' routine.

  • Open loops are all the tasks that you deem so important that you want to hold on to them.
  • Anticipatory stress. Another is the feeling that you constantly need to be on stand-by, such as responding to messages.

A master list can help you relax your mind. A master list is a document where you write down every task, email, to-do, and idea. For each item, write down a concrete next step, set a deadline, and categorise them as either working on now, waiting for someone else, or another time.

To truly relax your mind:

  • Record your progress in hours worked and tasks completed.
  • Glance at the day or week ahead to ensure there isn't anything you're forgetting about.
  • Acknowledge the day is over.

Use deep breathing exercises to relax your body:

  • Sit somewhere comfortable with a straight back
  • Close your eyes and begin breathing through your nose
  • Breathe in for a count of two.
  • Hold your breath for a count of one
  • Breathe out through your mouth for a count of four. The key is to exhale longer than you inhale.
  • Hold your breath for one second and then repeat.

This popular technique systematically relaxes your muscle groups one at a time.

  • Lie down and stretch out.
  • Breathe in and tense the first muscle group, for example, your hands. Tense hard, but not to the point of pain. Hold for 4-10 seconds.
  • Exhale and relax the muscle group all at once.
  • Relax for 10-20 seconds.
  • Move on to the next muscle group. Work through your whole body in this way.
  • When you're done, count backwards from 5 to bring your focus back to the present.

Eye strain is a common symptom of too much time on a screen. It can lead to headaches, tense shoulders and back, and potentially blurred vision.

A simple exercise to help with eye-strain: After every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Meditation practices can help you relax and focus your energy on your body and breath.

A walk outside can calm your mind and body and help you further into a state of relaxation.

  • Have a conversation with your boss on expectations and boundaries. Be open about when you're available and when not.
  • Keep your phone in another room to resist the urge to check it.
  • Remove work apps from your phone or home devise to create a distinction between phone (personal) and computer (work time.)
  • Change your email signature that states how long you usually take to respond.
  • Use if/then statements to reduce the need to keep working. (If I get an email notification at 5 pm, then I will ....)
Having clear work boundaries

Work boundaries help secure our time, energy, purpose and how fulfilled we feel.

Boundaries encourage us to have a work time and a time to recharge. So there should be a clear mind shift and a sense that we’re done for the day.

When we truly value our time, energy, skills, and expertise, we become a more careful about what we can take on and what we can easily drop.

Those that feel they're not enough can throw themselves into work and try compensate that unbalance with their output, usefulness and indispensability. But in doing so, they're more likely to say yes to what’s asked of them even when they'd rather say no. This is a clear path toward burnout.

When we communicate honestly and clearly, we’re leaving no uncertainty behind our intention and our meaning.

When starting a conversation in which we’d like to assert a boundary, we can sometimes let apologies creep in. But being apologetic makes us sound primed for a “no” or for some reprisal before anyone has had any input.

  • We start work based on a job description, a contract and set of mutual expectations. In return for doing this and that, we can expect to be compensated in this way and that way.
  • As time progresses, we’ll probably be asked to do other tasks and projects and we might ask for workplace adjustments.
  • When expectations aren’t clearly defined, understood or agreed upon, it causes heaps of stress for all concerned.

The decision we make, work related, involve consequences and compromises.

If we’re asked to work overtime, there’s a trade-off that occurs somewhere else because we can’t be in two places at once. If we’re not conscious of what the trade-off is, we might not have considered the things we’re giving up.

Working from home sounds ideal for those who’ve never done that before. But that too comes with a set of specific boundary issues.

Aspects of working from home that may need to be addressed include a whole new set of possible distractions; a greater need for self-discipline; having to create reasons to leave your home and get fresh air; and knowing when to put work down when you’re always at your place of work.

We can feel passionate and motivated about our jobs and still get burned out. Truth is, the more passionate we might feel, the easier it is for us to find an excuse for the long hours because we take pleasure and find purpose in what we’re working on.

Remember to take breaks (coffee breaks, lunch breaks, vacation, etc). They are a good way to have respite and create space.

Unpaid digital labor

This is a new term used to describe everything from late-night emails to texting with your boss before work.

You probably think it doesn't have much importance if you quickly check your emails before going to sleep. But the constant persistent thought of unseen/unread work obligations can have serious consequences.

Companies now love to talk about work/life integration instead of work/life balance .

  • Work/life balance could evoke an opposition between work and life and a sort of competition between the two.
  • Work/life integration is an approach that creates a sense of collaboration between the many ares of our lives (work, home, family, community, personal well-being, and health). And checking email a few times before bed is a small price to pay for more flexibility and control over how, where, and when we work.

It starts with an awareness of just how much you’re contributing to the problem.

The main issue with tracking your unpaid digital labor is that it comes in tiny increments. It’s hard to track the 3 minutes you checked email while making dinner or the 10 minutes on Slack before bed. But these small check-ins adds up–both in time and well-being.

  • Before you can start minimizing your unpaid labor you have to know how much of it you’re doing. And we're generally used to underestimate how long we spend on tasks thanks to biases like the Planning Fallacy.
  • Set proper expectations. One of the main reasons unpaid digital labor happens is because people don’t set proper expectations. We assume that people know how to communicate and we don’t need to spell out specific rules.
Not enough time

It feels like there’s never enough time to do all the things you have in mind.

You want to exercise, eat well and be healthy, You want to do great work, learn a language or guitar. But years slips by while it remains just an idea.

Time is limited, but, your attention, energy, and enthusiasm are more limited than your time.

Start creating habits. Inertia is a bigger enemy than a lack of time. Start doing the task for a few minutes a day. If you have only 10 minutes, use it. If your time is fragmented, cut your task up and spread it out. You'll be surprised how much materializes.
Your list is not a problem

A list of unfulfilled things isn’t a problem to eliminate. It is a challenge. 

  • Prioritize your goals.
  • Do one thing that matters out of all the possibilities.
  • Say no to all the things that don't meet your criteria.
  • Be content with the one thing you did instead of being unhappy with all the things you did not do.
Our fears drive us

We say we have no time, but we really fear getting started or making a mistake.

Face your fears first. If it is important, do it. If it is unpleasant, do it now. You'll find that it was not so scary after all.

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