There are many benefits to improving productivity but one often overlooked aspect is how it can help you with managing stress. To understand this relationship we first need to have a clear understanding of what productivity is. There are many definitions of productivity available, but I define productivity as follows:
Productivity = using your time + energy + attention effectively to achieve your goal
I deliberately used effectively instead of efficiently in my definition. We can be efficient in our days, working on tasks in a very organised manner, but if those tasks are of low value or come at the expense of more important tasks, then we are not being productive.
If you are spending your time on the wrong activities, no matter how well you manage your time, you will not achieve the productivity you are after. And this is where your goal comes in. You need to know where it is exactly you want to be spending your time, energy and attention.
For some people productivity will not matter. They will be incredibly happy with how things are going in their life and feel they are spending their time, energy and attention exactly where they want to.
For most of us though, productivity will matter. Productivity matters because otherwise we may not:
- apply our attention to achieve our goals
- spend our time with people we want to
- use our energy on tasks that makes us happier
- dedicate our attention to the bigger issues that are important to us
Understanding our overall productivity and how on a daily basis we manage our time, energy and attention can help us make the changes we need to bring greater productivity, happiness and satisfaction to our life.
Three Key Elements Of Productivity
The diagram above highlights the three key elements to productivity. I have based this diagram on one from the Oakland University. (Unfortunately I found it years ago but I can no longer find it online to link to it.)
The three key elements of productivity and their components are as follows:
- Time - which encompasses organisation, planning and breaks
- Energy - which encompasses exercise, nutrition and sleep
- Attention - focus, meditation and mindfulness
The key to productivity is managing all three elements well so you fall somewhere in the intersection of these three areas. Even if you find you are managing two of the three elements well, you will find you are not necessarily making the best use of your time and attention. You can think of the elements of productivity as an equation:
Energy + Attention - Time = Disorganisation
If you are managing your energy and attention but not your time you will be disorganised. For example, if you are well rested and clear headed but if you don't have any systems in place for finding the right info when you need it or have ways for capturing data and information, you will be disorganised and completing the work will take much longer than it should.
Energy + Time - Attention = Distraction
If you are managing your energy and time but not your attention you will be distracted. For example, if you are lacking in focus, you may be easily distracted or just work on any activity not the key tasks that you should work on to get you closer to reaching your goal.
Time + Attention - Energy = Fatigue
If you are managing your time and your attention but not your energy you will be fatigued. For example if you are not getting enough sleep and start work feeling tired, what ever work you do is most likely going to take you twice as long or be a lower quality because you don't have the energy for it.
Being aware of these three elements is essential for you to be able to analyse your productivity and work out what is missing. Only through this can you really achieve substantial gains in productivity, and as you will soon see help with managing your stress levels.
How Improving Productivity Can Help With Stress Management
The model above of productivity which focuses on the key elements of energy, time, and attention can also be very beneficial for stress management. By recognising the importance of these elements and understanding the impact of not having them in harmony, you can make conscious efforts to change them and as well as improving productivity it can also improve your overall well-being and reduce stress levels.
Energy, the first element, encompasses exercise, nutrition, and sleep. When these aspects are neglected or unbalanced, it can lead to decreased physical and mental vitality, making it not only difficult to be productive but it also makes it much more difficult to cope with stress. Regular exercise helps release endorphins, which promote a sense of well-being and reduce stress. Proper nutrition provides the body with the necessary nutrients to function optimally, while sufficient sleep rejuvenates the mind and body, allowing for better stress resilience. By managing energy effectively through exercise, nutrition, and sleep, you can enhance your ability to handle stressors and maintain higher levels of productivity.
The second element, time, involves organisation, planning, and taking breaks. If we are not conscious in how we manage our time it often leads to increased stress levels, as tasks pile up, deadlines loom, and you start to feel overwhelmed. By being more productive through prioritising tasks, creating schedules, and setting realistic goals, you can better manage your time and reduce stress in the process.
A key component of time management is planning ahead as it allows for a structured approach to tasks, minimising last-minute rushes and increasing efficiency. You aren't stressed out by due dates suddenly appearing giving you short time frames to complete important work.
When you are proactively managing your time it allows you to incorporate regular regular breaks throughout the day. Our brain and body operate within 90-minute cycles known as ultradian cycles. The recommendations from studies is that when engaging in focused work the ideal duration for each session is 90 minutes. This video explains the science behind this concisely.
Taking deliberate defocus breaks allows you to avoid exhaustion after periods of focus. Just like rest between sets of exercise, and it's important to remember that your ability to focus is not just related to what happens during the focus bouts, but after them as well - so having breaks that don't involve being on your phone or in front of a screen are best. By implementing effective time management strategies, you can reduce stress by gaining a greater sense of control over their workload.
The third element of productivity is attention and it encompasses meditation, mindfulness, and focus. In today's fast-paced and information-rich world, it's easy to become distracted and overwhelmed. Lack of attention and focus can lead to decreased productivity and heightened stress levels. Incorporating practices such as meditation and mindfulness helps improve attention span, promote mental clarity, and reduce stress.
By training your mind to be more focused and attentive, you can not only be more productive at work but it can help you navigate stressful situations with greater clarity and resilience.
Training your mind to be more focused and attentive can help improve productivity and also your ability to manage stress in general. By consciously practicing focused behaviours during non-work activities and avoiding distractions, we strengthen our capacity to maintain sustained focus during important tasks. This means when we are not working choosing activities that help increase our ability to focus like reading long form articles, reading books, spending time with no stimuli, thinking over problems and coming up with creative solution ideas.
By training our focus like this, you becoming practicing the skills to identify priorities, analyse problems, and make informed decisions. This deliberate practice not only enhances your productivity but also equips you with the tools to manage stress and approach life's challenges with a heightened sense of control.
Improving productivity can help significantly decrease overall stress levels. Through focusing on your productivity, you become more efficient and effective in managing your tasks and responsibilities which can decrease overwhelm when we have long to do lists and are managing multiple projects and/or people! By implementing strategies such as better time management, prioritisation, and focus, you can accomplish more in less time, reducing the pressure and stress associated with an increasing workload. Additionally, by maintaining a conscious approach to energy management, including getting enough exercise, sleep and eating well you enhance your physical and mental resilience, enabling you to handle stressors more effectively. And as productivity increases, a sense of accomplishment and control emerges, leading to reduced stress and a greater sense of well-being.