Want to be Less Stressed Out? More Productive? Try This.
What strange and uncertain times we are living in, but there are some upsides to working from home. Not battling the morning commuter traffic is definitely one of them. What are you doing with all that extra time you have in the mornings? If you’re like most people, you’re probably sleeping in later or delving into emails before you’re even really awake or using that extra time to begin the battle of homeschooling your children.
I’ve done all those things during the last few months. None of them worked so well. It turns out that it’s extra hard to manage our stress and be productive during a pandemic. Want to be less stressed out? More productive? Here’s the morning routine I’ve adopted and wow, has it made a difference.
I can hear all the objections already, mainly because I have this conversation in my mind every morning. Why should I meditate when I could just have a cup of coffee or sleep an extra ten minutes? Or check my emails?
Every morning my monkey mind comes up with all kinds of reasons not to meditate. And every morning I push past my objections and stumble over to my meditation chair and sit my sleepy self down for some quiet mind time. Why do I persist?
How about an extra 62 minutes of productivity every day? Or a 28 percent reduction in stress? Surely that’s worth giving up ten minutes of sleep for. Those meditation results were found by the researchers in a study conducted with Duke University.
Research has also found that “regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.” I think we can all use lower stress and improved immune function these days.
Most importantly to me, the mornings that I meditate, I’m way less likely to lose it with my kids. And that is gold, because I don’t know about you but I’m spending WAY too much time with my kids these days.
Go for a walk
After you’ve sat still for ten minutes, get moving. Go for a walk (or a run or do twenty jumping jacks in your living room or dance around for five minutes). Just do something to get your blood flowing and heart rate up. I mean obviously, this is good for your health but it can also increase your productivity. A Harvard study showed the benefits of exercise aren’t just physical. They include:
- Improved concentration
- Sharper memory
- Faster learning
- Prolonged mental stamina
- Enhanced creativity
- Lower stress.
I’m a relatively sedentary person and it’s tempting to skip the jumping jacks but on the days I do, I’m far more sluggish and I get way less done. I’m usually crankier and I definitely eat more chocolate.
Set your top three daily priorities. Make them 100% achievable.
Now is not the time for stretch goals. We’re already stretched enough. With all the changes and uncertainty we’re experiencing, it’s harder to concentrate, to feel motivated and to get things done. Our attention is more limited because our subconscious is consumed with dealing with the uncertainty and fear associated with being in the midst of a global pandemic.
This means it’s possible to go days without getting anything accomplished so we have to be even more intentional about choosing our top three daily priorities to work on.
For those of you who are like me and super optimistic (some might say unrealistic) about what you can get done in a day, we need to dial it down, way down. Because we need some wins right now to keep us motivated. If we get to the end of every day and we’re not checking things off of our list, we’re just going to want to spend the next day in bed eating chocolate and watching Netflix. Trust me on this one.
Our daily small wins snowball and lead to more wins. And when we get some wins, we feel motivated to go for more wins. I don’t know about you but I’m in need of every motivation trick I can get right now.
So when you choose your top three priorities for the day, make them achievable based on your new circumstances. Before the joys of home-schooling while attempting to get my own work done and listening to my husband’s work calls all day long, my top three daily priorities looked like this:
- Write blog post
- Write script and film video for book trailer
- Walk 10,000 steps
I can tell you that if I had that list today, I’d end my day in a pile of tears, fearing I’d never accomplish anything again. So, now my list looks more like this:
- Write outline for online course
- Write first draft of blog post
- Walk around the block at least once a day
Those are tasks I can check off at the end of the day, which makes me feel that it’s possible to achieve something during this very challenging time.
Set your daily top three priorities but readjust them for pandemic days. Find ways to break your larger priorities down and give yourself a shot at some small wins every day. Now is the time for small steps, not large leaps.
The first email you send each morning
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Harvard Business Professor, suggests to his clients that the first email they send each morning express specific gratitude to a co-worker. Why? It makes both the sender and the receiver of the email feel happier and Achor’s research has found that “happier people are 31% more productive … and… happy workers produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay.”
Obviously there are plenty of ways to create our own happiness but one of the surest ways is to be kind to others and to express our gratitude. These days, we’re a little more stressed out and anxious, making it a bit harder to feel happy so the more intentional we are about generating happiness, the calmer and more productive we’re going to be.
And, no surprises here, expressing genuine and specific gratitude creates stronger relationships between co-workers. Stronger relationships mean higher productivity. In a recent study of workplace dynamics reported in the Harvard Business Review, researchers found that “having a lot of co-workers who eventually developed into friends significantly increased employees’ performance, as judged by their supervisor.”
Take some time to think about why you’re feeling grateful for your co-workers and start penning those emails. I always suggest that you share the specific action the person took and the impact it had on you as that makes your gratitude far more meaningful.
For example, which email would you rather receive?
Thanks for being such a great co-worker, it’s great working with you.
I really enjoy working with you. I’m grateful for the sense of humour you bring to our meetings. You get us all laughing and I feel more relaxed and connected after the meetings. Thanks for that.
I think most of us would feel that the latter email feels more meaningful and has a stronger impact. We’re all feeling a bit more stressed out and on edge which can be a strain on our relationships and our productivity. A meaningful email expressing gratitude can make both you and the person you’re sending it to feel happier which leads to great results in every area of our lives.
During these unsettling times, many things feel like they are beyond our control so creating a morning routine that sets you up for success is extra important. Give it a try and see how much better your days go. On the days I choose meditation over checking email, jumping jacks over chocolate, I’m a lot more relaxed and a whole lot more productive.
This guest post was authored by Stephanie Berryman
Stephanie Berryman is a leadership development coach and consultant and the author of the international best-seller Working Well: Twelve Simple Strategies To Manage Stress and Increase Productivity available on Amazon. Stephanie’s books, articles and online courses are available on her website. She also has a free Have Your Best Day Every Day Blueprint for you, you can grab it here.
 David Gelles, “How to Be More Mindful at Work,” The New York Times, (month day, year): www.nytimes.com/guides/well/be-more-mindful-at-work
 Achor, The Happiness Advantage, 52.
 Achor, The Happiness Advantage, 41.
 David Burkus, “Work Friends Make Us More Productive (Except When They Stress Us Out),” Harvard Business Review (May 26, 2017), https://hbr.org/2017/05/work-friends-make-us-more -productive-except-when-they-stress-us-out.