How to Turn Stress into Productivity

Feeling stressed? No matter if you’re an entrepreneur pushing for your big break, a business owner trying to keep your company afloat, or an employee with a workload that’s piled high, most of us are not a stranger to stress. Stress can impede progress, stifle the imagination, and be destructive for efficiency. While stress can be harmful for health and productivity, it’s not necessarily the enemy. Here are three unique ways to harness your stress, be more productive, and focus on being constructive with your energy, thoughts, and time.

Find your Sweet Spot

Harvard Business Review article says that “stress can be good or bad depending on how you use it.” The Yerkes-Dodson curve relates how much motivational energy (called “arousal”) you have to how well you’ll perform at a task. The idea is that people don’t perform well at low levels of arousal, which is when many experience a lack of motivation, complacency, or laziness. As arousal increases, performance increases, which explains why many do well “under pressure,” excel when a deadline is approaching, or wait until the last-minute to start their term paper and knock it out of the park in 48 hours. This is good until you arrive at a point where there is too much stress, it becomes overwhelming, and performance begins to decrease again. Pay attention to when you’re doing your best and recognize when you’re not living up to your potential. Understand where your best point is for peak performance and use it to your advantage.

Pulse and Pause

Research from Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, shows that humans shift naturally from energy to fatigue every 90 minutes. His mantra is “pulse and pause” and he suggests taking short breaks every 90 minutes, whether that’s taking a walk or grabbing a snack. The Pomodoro Technique is a similar practice that splits up focused work into 25-minute intervals, followed by 5-minute breaks, including 15-minute breaks every two hours. In another research study, it found that the ideal work rhythm was 52 minutes of work, followed by a 17-minute break. Practices of this kind will allow you to purposely step away, no matter how stressed you feel, so that you can come back more productive than ever. Breaks lead to more “aha” moments, raise your level of engagement, and increase productivity. To get the full benefit of these techniques, your break really needs to be an actual break, such as going for a walk or talking to a friend on the phone.

Practice the Island Experiment

Mentioned in a Harvard Business Review article is a specific way to navigate stressors when you find they are clouding your mind and stalling your energy. In Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, he calls this practice the “Island Experiment.” No, this is not where you choose 3 things to bring if you were to be stranded on an island. Anchor suggests that you write out a list of stressors and put them into two circles, or “islands.” The first island is for the things you can control and the second island is for the things you can’t control. Ignore the second island and choose one clear and concrete action to take that will help you eliminate or ease a stressor from the first island. This practice allows you to focus on changing the things that are stressful for you in a productive manner and put the things you can’t control to the side so that they don’t continue to negatively impact your personal or professional progress.

Stress comes and goes and it will most likely always have a place in our lives, especially if we are working to accomplish great things. Work to find your sweet spot, implement pulsing and pausing into your work routine, or try out the Island Experiment. While we aren’t always in control of our stressors, we can choose actions that allow us to move forward with strength.

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