Reducing Unhealthy Productivity | Counseling | Therapy

Reducing Unhealthy Productivity

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As many of us enter the ninth month of a global pandemic, the rise of unhealthy productivity has been on the rise. There’s the idea that because you’re stuck at home, you should be as productive as you can. For others, they’ve had to grapple with unhealthy productivity way before the pandemic. Regardless of which camp you fall into, this article can help you in reducing unhealthy productivity.

A Quick Definition

Unhealthy productivity is convincing yourself to stay busy, even when all the essential items have been done. This form of productivity is unhealthy because it makes it difficult to differentiate between wants and needs. For instance, cleaning your garage becomes just as important as buying groceries for the week. The person isn’t a perfectionist, but rather feels compelled to finish as many tasks as they can on an neverending list. If you’re still confused about unhealthy productivity, here’s an article that explains it.

Create an Objective List of Needs

Now that you have an understanding of unhealthy productivity, let’s discuss ways in which you can reduce it. Take a moment to think about your day. What absolutely needs to happen before the day is over? Create a list of these needs while trying to be as fair and objective as possible. To help identify your needs for the day, consider the following.

  • Which obligations can I not put off? Why can’t I put them off (e.g., need to meet a deadline, people are depending on my contribution, won’t get another opportunity to complete the task, etc.).
  • Would ignoring a task jeopardize my health?
  • Which tasks (positively or negatively) greatly influence my mental and physical well-being?
  • Would neglecting an obligation negatively affect my financial, professional, or relational stability?
  • What are the external consequences of delaying a specific responsibility (e.g., having to pay a late fee, not having food in the fridge for dinner)?
  • Is the time spent doing the activity comparable or higher than its payoff (e.g., spending two hours mopping to have a month of clean floors)

Once you have created your list, review it. Do you agree with it? Does it seem fair? If so, adhere to the list and cross items off as you progress throughout the day. Remind yourself that you need to do those items on the list, and nothing else.

Create a Productivity Quadrant

After doing the previous activity, you should now be ready to expand on it. Another way that will aid in reducing unhealthy productivity is to create a productivity quadrant. This chart uses time and importance to divide your obligations into four categories. Quadrant I is urgent and important, quadrant II is non-urgent and important, quadrant III is urgent and non-important, and quadrant IV is non-urgent and non-important. Non-important activities are not dire nor essential, while non-urgent activities are free from a strict, short timeline. Here’s an example to make it more clear.




  • Getting the children ready for school
  • Paying the gas bill
  • Turning in this week’s work assignment
  • Exercising
  • Spending time with my family
  • Cleaning out the basement


  • Responding to a text message
  • Receiving a work email
  • A friend requesting to hang out with you
  • Responding to posts on social media
  • Rearranging your silverware
  • Checking your email before you go to sleep

Make your own productivity quadrant for the week and post it somewhere visible (e.g., your fridge, office, bathroom mirror). Next, dedicate your time to completing the urgent-important quadrant (quadrant I), while forgiving yourself for not fixating on the others. Be especially wary of the non-urgent and non-important quadrant. That intersection warrants the least of your time, so make sure to not conflate it with quadrant I.

Being productive is necessary, which is why it can be difficult to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy productivity. Fortunately, there are things that you can do. Start things off by creating a list of your actual needs. Once you’ve done that, create a productivity quadrant for yourself. Direct your physical and emotional energy to those essential obligations, while adopting a cavalier approach to the others. Additionally, consistently check in with yourself. While you are in the middle of an activity, ask yourself which quadrant you’re in. If it’s truly urgent and important, you’re not engaging in unhealthy productivity. This type of work can be difficult and slower than we might like. If you need further assistance in reducing unhealthy productivity, schedule a session with a therapist at

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