Stress is good.
You won’t hear that on
most productivity blogs. We’re usually obsessed with finding ways to decrease
our level of stress. Buy a stress ball! Do some yoga! Get one of those kettles
with the long spout and chant an ancient hymn while pouring organic
But since we’re both
here, it seems likely that neither of us are totally satisfied with that kind of
The truth is, stress
is a little more complicated. Not all stress is bad. And a little stress can
make you feel amazing.
Consider the word
“stress” without any associations attached – without your talkative colleague,
without your job insecurity, without the construction near your house. Think of
it in a purely physics sense. Stress is merely the force acting on an object;
and that’s what makes the object move.
The stress in your life is trying to make you move as well.
Stress is neutral; it
can drive you to achieve big things, or it can send you spiraling – but not
because of the stress itself, but because of how you cope with it. And this is
where the yoga and the balls and the kettle come into the picture.
Stress in the
workplace can be our best friend, if we handle it right. We can develop
astounding resilience if we change a couple of things about our perception of
Crisis vs Challenge
Our brains are experts
at survival. And when they encounter some amount of stress, they will flip into
either a crisis mode, or a challenge mode. In the crisis mode, oxygen flow to
the brain lowers. In a challenge mode, exactly the opposite happens –
oxygen flow to the brain increases. If we can view stress as an exciting
challenge, an opportunity, then our brain will become more creative, more
rational, more resilient.
The PR6, a resilience
measurement test, defines this as the domain of Tenacity. Using and
improving the skill of tenacity will change your mindset, make you more
resilient, and help harness stress for powerful action.
Your boss gives you a
large project. You already have heaps of projects lined up, children that need
your attention, and another coworker is angling for a promotion that you want.
A crisis view of this situation sees the project as another big stress on top of other stresses. How will you get it done? What if you can’t get the promotion? You may be tempted to shut down. Or buy a stress ball. Or quit. Either way, you will feel all the negative effects of stress handled poorly.
A challenge view of this situation sees it as an opportunity. Your mind starts to generate ideas about how to squeeze this project in. Maybe this is a big opportunity to impress, to grow in your efficiency, or even to sit down with your boss and discuss workload. Perhaps this is the perfect time to knuckle down and show off your skills and gain that promotion. You’re inspired, ambitious, determined.
So, if you have stress
– some kind of force acting upon you – and you know you need to move,
sit down and make a list. Ask yourself: how could this be a good thing? Even if
all angles seem negative, keep asking until you have something solid. What’s
your game plan? Write down possible steps. Get inspired. Get excited. Get that
oxygen in your brain and make stress work for you.
Work vs Life
People will tell you
that in order to not feel stressed at work, you need to find the very elusive
Work and life were
exactly the same thing for all human history until the industrial revolution.
Suddenly the spheres shifted; people were travelling to work, and the
geographical separation resulted in conceptual differentiation. Suddenly work
was not part of life – life was not part of work – and no guesses as to which
However, work and life
were never meant to be separated. If we consider work as a part of the sphere
of life and vice versa, we’ll thrive in both. If all your needs are met at
work, you don’t need to retreat to “life” to be content.
Let’s translate this
into action. Instead of aiming for a certain trade off of work and life hours,
think of it in terms of needs and responsibilities instead. For example, I
can’t wait to go to work because our team are all good friends. I’m not
counting down the minutes until I can leave; my needs are met at work. And when
I’m at home, I’m not devoid of purpose; I’m still working on my goals, fulfilling my responsibilities – my needs are
still met at home.
You can walk from
sphere to sphere and be fulfilled in both.
The PR6 resiliency
test defines this idea as Vision – the ability to meet your needs in all
places and keep your goals congruent across the different parts of your
To achieve a better
harmony of spheres, get innovative on ways to bump up your needs.
Some actionable tactics
- Ask coworkers out to coffee. Eventually it stops being awkward and starts being fun!
- Keep more plants on your desk
- Structure your work day in ways that make you excited to work – I break everything down into manageable pieces, schedule a certain amount of tasks per day, and then ride the wave of dopamine that comes from the nearly primal joy of crossing things off the list
- Celebrate everyone’s birthdays
A note: the best need to fulfill is the social one first. If your relationships at work are deep and fulfilling, everything else becomes a lot easier. Human beings are designed to be nodes in a network, fundamentally social. Fulfill that need and flourish.
GET THE BOOK BY
Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books–written by men–barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.