The Reality of Toxic Productivity

The Reality of Toxic Productivity | Xena

In the age of the self-help industry, we’ve been told that productivity is everything. After all, it’s associated with ticking off your to-do list and crushing your #BusinessGoals. But there’s another side of productivity that people seldomly want to admit to. 

Yes, we’re talking about Toxic Productivity. The truth is that perfectionists and overworked business owners are suffering from burnout, depression and anxiety at alarming rates. But why is this happening, and what can you do about it? Read on to find out.

importance of self-care

Self-care is not a new concept. In fact, it’s been around for thousands of years. We are told to live in a way that “honours the divine within us at all times” in Hinduism and Buddhism—to reflect on our thoughts and actions through mindful observation. 

In other words, if you want to feel better in general, then you should do things that make you feel good! Sounds simple enough? However, we’re facing rising socio-economic pressures and unrealistic expectations around the idea of success. The act of self-care has become somewhat an afterthought in our modern-day society, especially for female business owners. 

As women, we take on so many roles: Daughter, wife, mother, sister, girl boss CEO. Culturally, we’re expected to give more than we take. It may very well seem that taking time, energy and resources to make yourself happy is seen as a selfish act.

The self-help crisis

Look around, ladies. The self-help industry is booming. In the US alone, it’s worth around R170 billion and growing every year. Much of the advice you’ll find in self-help books and seminars are focused on looking good, being productive and just “
making things happen” in your life. It’s a very individualistic expectation: “I can do it!”, “I have control over my destiny!”, “I can, I will, I must”. 

It’s easy to see why this kind of self-help would appeal to people who feel overwhelmed by being a business owner or just stressed out in general. But what if we’re going about things all wrong? What if instead of focusing on productivity and productivity alone? We look at health, our relationships and working smart by asking for help and finding strength in numbers?

Productivity: An unhealthy work culture

We often forget that our work serves as an environment where we are constantly interacting with clients and employees. Those interactions have some pretty important effects on our health. Add in new territories like remote working, and the fear of becoming #irrelevant in your niche. Suddenly your business can become an internal competition ground for productivity and unrealistic expectations. 

And so, we work longer hours and take fewer breaks all in the pursuit of meeting deadlines, keeping clients happy and being a top performing Fempreneur. What’s more, you’d think new technologies would have helped us to free up more time to create a work-life balance. Unfortunately, the opposite is quite true. 

Business owners are using their free time to get more done, often blurring the line between the office and home (Yes, we’re checking emails first thing in the morning and working in our PJ’s).

Self-care is not always pretty

When you think of self-care, what do you picture? Chances are, you imagine someone sitting on a couch with their legs tucked in a fuzzy blanket, listening to music and sipping hot tea with a face mask on. Or perhaps they’re eating a slice of chocolate cake while they read their favourite book… And let’s not forget the bubble bath.

While all these things can contribute to self-care to some extent, they’re often a short-term fix. In reality, self-care looks different to everyone, and more often than not, it stems from internal needs for fulfilment and validation. 

Sometimes, self-care doesn’t look pretty. If you’re honest, it could mean breaking ties with toxic relationships, addressing your negative habits, looking after your health and forcing yourself to disconnect from the world and be still with your thoughts and emotions. 

The same goes for productivity. We have a preconditioned idea that productivity equals work, being active and advancing yourself in some way or another. But we need to realise that being passive can be productive, like resting, reflecting, finding gratitude and (we can’t emphasise this enough) sleeping enough.

Hustle Culture: stop the grind

You’ve probably heard the buzzword “Hustle Culture” trend in recent years. The extreme messaging is all too familiar: “The graft doesn’t stop”, “Rise and grind”, and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. 

Aidan Harper, creator of European work week-shrinkage campaign ‘4 Day Week’ describes Hustle Culture as the following: “It creates the assumption that the only value we have as human beings is our productivity capability — our ability to work, rather than our humanity.” And boy, oh boy, ain’t that the truth!

For many people, it’s a way of life born out of necessity or the need to “get ahead”. The belief is that if you work hard enough, you will become successful. However, it needs to be said that this is a very short-sighted approach to success. It completely leaves out factors like long-term health, loneliness, and personal dissatisfaction.


Ladies, it’s time to re-imagine productivity and self-care to align better with our needs and emotions. Say goodbye to external validation and start saying yes to understanding that it’s okay not to be perfect and productive 100% of the time. As fempreneurs, we need to support each other as we work towards our business goals. That also includes supporting rest, reflection and being in tune with our present needs. 

We believe there is much more room in entrepreneurship for compassion and kindness, for others AND for ourselves, don’t you ladies? 

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