"Who feels stressed?" I ask as an opening to my talk at a Fortune 100 company. Inevitably almost every single hand shot up in the air. It frankly did not surprise me. How many of us feel overwhelmed and stressed on a daily basis just thinking about the never ending, long to-do list of tasks and responsibilities at work and even outside of work? Or just the sheer pressure to perform well and be on top of our game? To be mentally sharp and productive? The faces peering back at me certainly could relate. So much so that one employee wrote about my talk on the company intranet and even publicly on his own blog.
Stress is designed to help us. When the body's stress response is working properly, it helps us stay focused, energetic and alert. It also helps us meet challenges. Stress is what keeps us alert during a presentation and can sharpen our concentration. However beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to our health, mood and productivity.
Today we are experiencing an unprecedented amount of stimulants that stress our nervous system beyond what we can even recognize. We don't realize that from a biological point of view we are in the 21st century, perfectly safe not threatened by lions or tigers. Our body is constantly taking in "insults" -- the buzzing of our phones, text messages, a constant flood of emails or a seemingly endless to-do list. As we experience these insults repeatedly throughout the day our health and productivity are compromised.
Symptoms of compromise come in the form of headaches, muscle tension, muscle pain, chest pain, fatigue, upset stomach, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, lack of focus, irritability, depression, eating problems, addiction and social withdrawal just to name a few.
Here are three ways to improve your productivity and well-being:
1. Get a consistent seven to nine hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. Sleep is important for our brains and productivity. Lack of sleep can hurt our job performance. Head of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta-Osorio knows that all too well. He took a two-month leave back in 2011 due to fatigue.
2. Slow down. Slow down your racing thoughts and mind. Take a break every hour, at the very minimum every three hours and get up. It can be as simple as getting up and stretching or walking to the water cooler. Our brain needs breaks and so does our body from sitting. Sitting is considered the new smoking. Research shows this type of inactivity actually kills more people than smoking.
3. Reduce smartphone and email use when and where appropriate. Checking a mobile device first thing in the morning and as the last thing you do at night is not ideal. In the very least turn it off one hour before bedtime.
Shayne Hughes, CEO of Learning as Leadership took it even a step further by banning all internal e-mail for one entire week. He says the results were unequivocal. "Our high-octane, stay-on-top-of-whatever-is-happening-via-e-mail mentality disappeared. In its place we experienced a more focused and productive energy... The decrease in stress from one day to the next was palpable. So was our increase in productivity."