Stress and productivity have an interesting relationship. Most of us feel stress in proportion to our productivity; the less we’re able to get done, and the bigger our workload is, the more stressed we are. The more we're accomplishing, the less stressed we feel.
Additionally, too much stress can hinder your productivity; if you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed, you won't be able to work as effectively as usual.
That's why your best approach is to utilize strategies that have the simultaneous capacity to reduce your stress and improve your productivity.
Let's take a look at some of the best strategies to improve your work.
1. Turn off notifications
Do you know how many notifications you receive in a day? Chances are, your number is in the hundreds, if not the thousands. You get pinged with new emails, new text messages, new chat requests and other triggered events throughout the day. While this might seem beneficial, since it allows you to act quickly in response to new events, it usually causes more harm than good.
Even a small distraction can result in a massive interruption in your focus and reduce your capacity to work. It also stresses you out; if you don’t believe me, think about how your default alert noise makes you feel, instinctually. Fix this problem by turning notifications off, as often as possible throughout the day. You'll feel better and focus harder on the work that truly matters.
Some professionals mistakenly believe that productivity is a function of doing more work; in reality, it's a function of getting more work done. These functions sound similar, but there's an important distinction; you don't have to be the one doing the extra work. Instead of simply trying to cram more tasks into your limited number of working hours, consider delegating those tasks to other people.
If you have trustworthy employees, you can train them to do the work on your behalf. If not, you can create an algorithm or use a tool to automate the task.
You can, for instance, use a chatbot to improve your productivity while also improving customer engagement and experience. In any case, the work is no longer on your plate, so you can focus on more important matters and spend less time fretting.
3. Make lists
Next, consider making more lists. You can list out the tasks and priorities you have to do next, or list the biggest thing stressing you out at this moment. Handwritten or typed lists empower you to think through your situation, giving you focus and clarity; they also provide you with direction on what to do next in many cases.
The very act of writing can be cathartic, granting you some measure of stress relief. And when you're done, you have something to act on.
4. Understand your peak productive times
Are you a night owl or an early bird? Research suggests that there's a genetic factor in determining your peak productivity time – in other words, when, during the day, you're able to complete your best work. I'd be willing to bet you already know your peak productivity time, but if not, take some measurements throughout a workday to determine it with objective data.
If you're more functional early in the morning, try to knock out the most difficult tasks and highest priorities early on. If you're better in the afternoon, save your most demanding work for later.
5. Exercise midday
Exercise is good for your health, of course, but more than that, it has the power to boost your mood, feelings of energy and overall productivity. It also has stress-relieving properties that can make you feel better even after a hard day at work.
You can exercise in the morning, or when you get home at night, but it's perhaps most effective to exercise midday, as a break between bouts of work. Even a short walk around the block can make you feel less stressed and boost your productivity.
6. Keep communication open
Communication is a gateway to better performance. When people feel comfortable talking openly to one another, they're more straightforward about their needs and concerns.
There's also less room for miscommunication or misinterpretation. Accordingly, one of your best strategies is to prioritize and reward open communication in your team; make employees feel comfortable opening up to you, and make sure your team members are as clear and concise as possible.
7. Play to the power of autonomy
Research suggests that autonomy is the most important factor for employee engagement and satisfaction; in other words, people want to feel a degree of control over their work. Push to gain more autonomy for your role, and give your employees more autonomy if you have the power to do so.
With more people (including you) directing their own work, your organization will run much smoother.
8. Eliminate some meetings
Meetings are often a waste of time. They prevent you from doing the heads-down work that's most important for your organization, and in many cases, excessive meetings irritate you, whether it's due to their unnecessary length or irrelevant topics.
Push back by saying no to some meetings, and cancel some of the recurring meetings on your schedule. You'll be amazed at how relieved you'll feel afterward.
9. Shorten other meetings
For the meetings you still need to hold, consider shortening the length. According to Parkinson's law, tasks, including meetings, tend to take whatever amount of time you set for them. In other words, your one-hour meetings probably last an hour only because you gave them an hour in your schedule.
Cut meeting times in half, and see how much more you can get done, and how much stress you'll spare yourself.
10. Stop checking news and social media
It's tempting to read the news or check social media between tasks, and many of us have convinced ourselves it's a quick and convenient way to relieve stress. In reality, it's probably doing the opposite.
Taking breaks is a good thing, but don't immerse yourself in a digital world run by algorithms designed to evoke outrage; instead, work on a puzzle, talk to a loved one, or just go outside for a while.
11. Take occasional mental health days
Speaking of breaks, take the occasional mental health day. Modern workers are often reluctant to take days off, pushing through their work in a desperate bid to accomplish more. The irony is that occasional off days can reduce your stress and improve your productivity, allowing you to get more done and feel happier with fewer days in the office.
Vacations are a great way to relieve stress, but you don't need to take a trip or take a full week off to enjoy the benefits of time off.
12. Keep a journal
Finally, keep a journal, even if it's just a handful of written lines at the end of each day. Like with list-making, the mere act of writing down your thoughts and feelings can be cathartic, relieving you of stress. More importantly, it gives you the opportunity to reflect on the day. Which events and developments interfered with your ability to get things done?
Which events were responsible for causing you the most stress? This period of self-reflection will allow you to proactively identify the most important variables in your workday to address in the future.
Discovering your own strategies
Each person responds to stress in different ways, and has a different approach to work and productivity. Take the time to experiment with new approaches, and measure your results. Which tactics make you feel good and help you get more done during the day? Which ones seem to be more trouble than they're worth?
Eventually, you'll optimize an approach that works best for you as an individual. There's no such thing as perfection here, but you can keep improving your work style.