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When Productivity Becomes an Addiction

BBC Worklife

Jessica Mudditt

"Productivity" has become a buzzword with positive connotations – but what happens when getting things done is taken to an extreme? Overview

According to Dr. Sandra Chapman, chief director of Center for BrainHealth, productivity can be addictive for the brain, similarly to drugs, gambling, eating or shopping.

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“A person might crave the recognition their work gives them, or the salary increases they get. The problem is that just like all addictions, over time a person needs more and more to be satisfied and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression and fear.”
A disease that affects the brain's reward system, addiction results in compulsive behavior despite harmful consequences. However, addiction to productivity often yields rewards – or at least positive suggestions. “It's seen as a good thing: the more you work, the better,” says Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.” Addressing warning signs and taking steps to modify compulsive habits is essential. Chapman suggests limiting the amount of time spent on an individual work task to 45 minutes or fewer, and not allowing interruptions, so as to create an opportunity for deep thought.

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“You will use that time more efficiently and achieve a higher quality of output. Productivity junkies are more likely to spend valuable time chasing rabbits rather than focused work tending to elephants,” she says.
Chapman also recommends creating opportunities for renewal and taking steps to boost brain performance, such as creating a "not-to-do list" to avoid overscheduling.

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“Take five minutes at least five times a day to completely stop. Turn off your technology and go outside,” says Chapman.
The brain thrives on fun, laughter and meaningful relationships – so Chapman emphasizes the need to make room for joy, no matter what. “At the end of peoples’ lives, they don't wish they’d worked longer hours. They wish they’d spent more time with family or enjoyed the travel they got to do, but were never mentally present because they were checking their phone.” Read the full story

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Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD

Chief Director Dee Wyly Distinguished Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences Co-Leader, The BrainHealth Project


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