Hustle Culture is Toxic!

Hustle Culture is Toxic!

I said it, and I mean it.

As someone who is most definitely guilty of taking on more work, side projects, hobbies, and business ventures than is probably recommended at once, I have found myself on occasion falling victim to the hustle culture mentality. You see others on social media achieving their goals, posting motivational content, and peddling the gospel of productivity, and you start to think thoughts like “why am I so bad at this” and “maybe I need a more strict regimen or a new productivity tool”. And then, if you’re like me, you waste half a day going down the Google rabbit hole of productivity hacks.

The problem with this is that it creates a cycle of negative self-talk where you end up constantly dwelling on what you are doing wrong compared to what everyone else seems to be doing right. And meanwhile, you aren’t accomplishing anything at all.

The productivity of unproductivity

In terms of productivity, everyone is different and, as such, it stands to reason that different approaches will work for different people. That said, despite what influencers will tell you, I don’t think there is anybody who benefits from overworking themselves.

I’m not saying that you should reject working outright and only work on stuff when you feel like it. I think if you want to achieve anything you need to accept that there will be some work involved, and sometimes (maybe even more often than not) you won’t feel like working. Here’s where the inspirational Instagram, or tech YouTuber will tell you to “get on your grind” and put in the work on that side hustle. What they don’t tell you is that it’s ok, and preferable, to take a break sometimes.

There seems to be this pervasive idea that in order to be successful we need to milk as much time as possible out of our days to focus on work and productivity. No… Just no. However many hours you want to put into a day of work is up to you — Or your boss, more on that later — but you should not be trying to push yourself beyond your physical or mental limit. That’s not to say that the occasional late-night working session or long workday is the end of the world. It’s fine, it happens. But, doing so consistently will lead to burn-out, and you will be worse off for it.

I’m not here to discourage you from working toward a goal, but I think there is a healthier way to approach it than is often advertised. Think about a weight-loss goal: Is it more effective to follow an extreme diet and drop a bunch of weight super fast, or is it more effective to spread that goal over a longer period by making smaller sustainable changes?

All of this is to say that you don’t need to be productive all the time. Obviously, the expectations will be different depending on the circumstances. I can take 3 months off working on my hobby side project that nobody holds me accountable for, but I need to be more reasonable about paid client work, for example. The point is, if you feel that you need a break then you probably do and you should take a break. Work on something else for an hour or two put down what you’re doing until tomorrow, go for a walk, play a video game. You get the idea.

You’ll find that, if you can do this effectively, you’ll end up being more productive despite the breaks. “But what if I can’t take a break?” I hear the cynics ask. Well, then you are in one of a couple of situations:

  1. Your boss doesn’t allow you to take breaks — It’s time for a new job.
    If your workplace values hours on the timesheet over quality work produced at a reasonable rate, they don’t value you and they don’t value your sanity.
  2. You’ve procrastinated, or miscommunicated, on something and you’re down to the wire on a deadline.
    Sometimes this happens, and it is stressful. But even in these situations, you’d be surprised at the difference 5 minutes of stepping away from the screen will make. Try taking a short tea or coffee break and give yourself a few minutes to recharge.

In summary, if you constantly push yourself to the edge and expend all of your energy, you are going to burn yourself out. You might achieve your goal in that time, but it is not sustainable in the long term and it is going to be at the cost of your mental well-being. What’s more, if you lead a team with this mentality, you will have poor talent retention rates. Everybody is different, and every person’s limit is unique to them. You need to figure out your own limit and make sure that you are not consistently overexerting yourself.

Do we really need to be achieving all the time?

As good as the dopamine release feels when we post a major accomplishment on social media, it is not something that we should constantly be chasing.

For many people, when it comes to work, you have work that has to get done and it usually gets done whether you are feeling particularly productive or not. But when it comes to side projects or side gigs, it can be hard to find the motivation. Isn’t that bad? Shouldn’t I be giving everything I’ve got to be successful and make things happen? I would argue no, not necessarily.

Personally, I tend to be productive in waves. I’m not saying that this is the right way to do things, or even that it is particularly effective. But, it works for me. The thing that I have taken away from my personal experience is that it is okay to be in a slump for a little while. Sometimes it’s even beneficial.

The key here is “a little while”. I notice that I tend to get really excited about working on things, and as I get deeper or get stuck I’ll lose interest or lose motivation. I think this is fairly common, especially among creatives; We get bored and distracted by new shinier objects. This goes beyond simply not being interested, if I am truly not interested in a project I generally drop it fairly early on. If I make it halfway through, I usually intend to finish but something has reduced my motivation. Where this generally ends up for me is that I know pushing myself will burn me out and I will lose even more motivation and possibly stop enjoying the project altogether. So usually I lose some short-term productivity but gain long-term sustainability.

An example of this from my personal experience: I was working on a side project, simply for fun — a toy game engine. I got stuck and kept at it for a few days. I was getting frustrated that I was not making much progress, and I had a lot going on at work at the time. I tabled the project, for almost a whole year, I had no commitment to it but I knew that I wanted to finish it. That year later, motivation hit me and I had thought of a solution for where I was stuck. I picked up where I left off and finished the whole project in a couple of months.

Things are different with deadlines and work that you’re accountable for, of course. You can’t just take a year off. What I do in those cases is effectively “productive procrastinating”. If I start feeling burnt out on one particular project, I work on something else that I need to get done and put off the other project until tomorrow or the next day. This is why I like the idea of primary and secondary projects; As long as your deadlines are reasonable, you always have something else you can focus on for a little while.

What is success?

This is one of those questions that nobody can answer for you. You really have to look inward to define what success means to you. To some people success is material wealth, to some it’s a fulfilling career path, to some it’s being able to do what they love for a living, to some it’s prioritizing family, and the list goes on.

Social media doesn’t matter… mostly

What I mean is that those likes are almost never as important as you think they are. Chasing clout, and constantly trying to one-up yourself is only going to lead to burn-out in the long run. And worse, letting your social media interactions dictate your sense of self-worth can lead you to some very dark places.

This is not to say there’s no value in social media. For one, it’s an easy avenue to share what you are working on and gauge the general interest level. It also allows you to quickly and easily engage with your audience on a personal level. These are all good things, and social media makes them more accessible.

The takeaway here is that you should see your social media accounts as tools for establishing and maintaining your brand, and interacting with your audience. Not as trophies or measures of your status and accomplishments.


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *