Toxic Productivity Loops

Toxic Productivity Loops

Hello, Radiant Soul made of Stardust! 

Radiant Soul who, incidentally, is a Human Being made of Quirks, and Qualms and may, like me, be experiencing a Cascade of Comedic Tragedies!

Truthfully, the cascade has abated (knocks on all the wood. Throws self onto wooden surfaces, knocking furiously as a desperate prayer).

This little ditty is for those who need a break but can’t gear down. Who may be ‘on a train’ not of their own making (or their own making- you know who you are!)

I started writing this weeks ago, while on my own train, seeking summer reprieve. I had to put it away once it became “something to finish before resting” which is one of the signs you need to stop. 

If you ever feel the weight of your responsibilities like pains or heaviness in your body. If your checklists have taken over your dreams. If you’ve been going and doing and making and pushing and holding and you’d love to be living verbs that are less energy-sucking. If you want more presence and peace and sweet relief, this is for you. 

First, in case you need to hear this: You deserve to be well. And rested. And full with pleasure and delight. You don’t need to earn it first. 

I endeavour to take a solid amount of time off every summer. As a parent without childcare in the summer “off” is a debatable term. For me, it means being away from my computer and in a timescape that isn’t hyper-scheduled. It’s creating experiences where I can drop in deeply with myself, my family, my local community and my friends. Where I can swim for hours in the ocean with my teenager, hanging on to every splash and laugh like they’re my final moments with his childhood because they really are.  

But “dropping” isn’t readily available for me if I’ve been in a season of intense productivity. I (and the other go-ers I know) need a bit of unravelling time. Unfurling practices. Opt-outing discipline. Pausing support. Releasing practices. 

We may need to detox from productivity loops. 

I choose the word detox because there may be a point in your life where being productive isn’t the glamourized holy grail of success it’s billed to be (this may be most of the time in a lot of folk’s lived experiences). There may be times when being productive feels compulsively toxic and begins to poison the waters of your general experience of being alive. Or is that just me?

Where to start? How about with a checklist since “detoxing from checklists” was on my checklist? 

In this edition of my brain on drugs capitalism, here’s what we’ll cover…

The Resurgence of old patterns as new teachers
Productivity: My drug of choice. You?
Signs it’s time to gear down
How to detox from a productivity loop

Since no one has the attention span for a 5000-word essay, I shall drip it to you in parts. Part 1…

The resurgence of old patterns as new teachers

I learned something about myself these past couple of months. An important lesson! One I’ve been learning for years. Another round. Same lesson. New view. I didn’t have to burn out, thrash and suffer to see it, which is a victory that comes with relief and #alwaysbegrowing smugness.

This past spring brought a great push of productivity. It’s what I’d call a Summer Season for my projects. Execution, execution execution. The seeing-through of plans made.

It was an astonishingly joyful period of time. 

I was astonished because I’ve come to relate to “times of push” as a potential relapse of workaholism that I’ve been actively healing. The ol’ pathological productivity demon. 

You know that pattern you wish wasn’t yours but it absolutely is and all the things you’ve done to tackle it has helped immensely, but it’s still in your bones, travelling with you wherever you go? Mine is around slowing the F down. Biting off a chewable dose of all-the-things. Knowing when to call something done and exhale all the way to the pause at the bottom. 

Once a season of productivity kicks off, and along with it all the glorious momentum, it can start to feel like a train. It keeps a pace on those tracks that feels threatening to stop. I risk the pattern leading me instead of me leading my time. This is when I know a season of productivity has turned into a loop. It just keeps going. Train car after train car, looping around, ticking off checklists as though my life and livelihood depend on the neverendingness of it all. 

My lesson with this pattern, again, is that it’s near impossible to go from top speed to chill vibes in a single breath. Even though that would feel wildly productive! Intentionality, presence and patience are my backup dancers for the moves needed to gear down.

Productivity: My drug of choice. You?

Because I’ve actively worked with this pattern for years and will likely dance with its familiarity for the rest of my life, when things get really stinkin’ busy, I get a wee bit stressed about it. Not about the busyness itself, that I can handle. That’s as cozy as a bamboo onesie. I meet “go-time” like a boxer hopping from foot to foot. I get stressed about the potentiality of patterns having the reins. 

I am crudely suspicious of my motivations during “go-times”. Like– uh-oh, I’ve worked so hard to not work too hard, have I unconsciously propelled myself into an inevitable burnout? Am I barrelling toward unsustainability? Am I failing to walk my “heed winter!” talk???? Did capitalism win!!!?!?!?!?! (shakes fist at the sky while weeping in her garden which totally dies of drought because (*cough* climate change) I never watered it while working all the effing time.

Do not worry about my garden, dear friend, it’s going strong. And I have barely been working (high five, witches!) 

This past season of “go-time” felt exceptionally clean. I’d planned, prepared, had the right support, and kicked it into sixth gear. And when I knocked out a to-do list in five hours that my wintering self wouldn’t be able to tackle in a month, it felt Euphoric. It was like the triathlon I’d been training for. I beat my best time. 

The challenge with kickin’ it productivity style is that the mind and body start to orient around the to-do list. What feels good and right is getting things done. Doing. Producing. Now. Well. Fast (without compromising quality). It’s a very yang, agentic kind of vibe. Very: Train. I’ve built so many skills and feel like such a boss in these seasons, my inner wise woman is appropriately vigilant, lest we wake the hungry ghosts. 

I’ve worked with many clients who have similar proclivities and the magic sauce of sustainability seems to be in knowing when to stop before you’ve pushed beyond your capacity. Before you’re scraping the bottom. Before you feed the unnamable hole. Before you start making mistakes or cringy decisions. Before ‘getting sh*t done’ becomes the totality of your functional identity. 

How do you know when it’s time to gear down?

Even if you love a good, hard push, nobody likes feeling like they’re cranking out their crank hole (whatever THAT means! Seems visceral though.) 

One of the things I help people to catch onto is their Way of Checking. As in…

  • What are you unconsciously checking for when playing out a particular pattern and how does that way of checking keep that pattern in place? 
  • When you’re in a productivity loop, the mind checks for what needs doing, but to what end? 

Nothing is enough. 

Want to know something super trippy? Not once, when I’ve asked a client caught in a productivity loop how they discern when enough is enough, have they been able to answer that question. Isn’t that interesting? After some digging, we find language for the “impossible enough”, but when there’s no end in sight and everything is on a deadline, the only “enough” is the end and there is no end. Also, there is no spoon. (If you’re too young to know that reference, you may also be too young to know your energy isn’t infinite – heed my advice young grasshopper and learn how to autumn now!)

“I will take a break when I get to the other side of…” is a siren song for toxic productivity. 

When I call productivity pathological or toxic, it’s at these times. It’s the time when your human animal really needs to move into “autumn”, out of the perpetual “summer of effortful activity”. It’s when Go-time needs to shift into slow-time. 

Sense you’re seeing signs it’s time to gear down? Stay tuned for Part 2!

With Love + Chill Vibes,


I’m an Integral Master Coach™, Master Certified Coach, writer, mother & people lover. My gifts are centered around helping others to meet their calling and unleash their genius, on behalf of our shared world. Get to know me...