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13 Things That Are Stressing You Out And Making You Less Productive

13 Things That Are Stressing You Out And Making You Less Productive

Ever wonder what makes you stressed and less productive?

I’ll tell you.

It’s having a lack of focus.

I’m not generalizing. It’s really that simple.

The twelve things listed below are all causes of stress that drain your focus. The only way to become relaxed and productive is by fixing these things one at a time and gradually improving. There is no quick fix, no magic pill.

The first two things, multitasking and instant gratification, are the two main culprits, from which the other ten things stem.

1. Multitasking

Men can’t do more than one thing at a time, but women can. Women are great multitaskers!

Wrong.

All multitasking is detrimental to your productivity and will quickly stress you out by draining your focus. When multitasking, you often get more stimulation than your brain can handle without getting tired.

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The best way to stop multitasking is to quit cold turkey. You will notice massive positive results in a week or two.

Some more strategic and sustainable ways of reducing multitasking include preemptively shutting off your phone, limiting or removing your Internet access, keeping your door closed or locked, and making sure that you are not constantly snacking.

2. Instant Gratification

Instant gratification is closely related to multitasking. In both cases you are gradually conditioning your brain to need more and more stimulation, thereby increasing the threshold to the point where you can no longer keep focused for longer than a minute without having to check Facebook or your phone.

The most common forms of instant gratification include:

  • Social media
  • Phones
  • Youtube
  • TV
  • Music (Sure, there are exception, but let’s ignore the positives for now)
  • Sugar
  • Snacks
  • Masturbation
  • Drugs

Instant gratification is basically anything that gives you a quick boost of stimulation without having to put in any work beforehand. When engaging in too much instant gratification, you will have trouble focusing, as a result of having conditioned your brain into believing that it doesn’t have to work before it gets its reward.

This is the difference between watching TV and reading a book. TV is a passive medium that doesn’t require your mental engagement, whereas a book does. It is impossible to read without engaging the brain to a certain extent.

There is no easy way of quitting instant gratification. It is simply a matter of discipline.

3. Not Taking Short Breaks

Are you going beyond what you can handle in terms of optimal productivity because you paradoxically believe that you are being productive?

If so, try to taking a quick break for 5-10 minutes and then returning to your work. Here are a few things you can do to come back fresh:

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  • Get some fresh air
  • Go for a sprint
  • Stretch
  • Tense your muscles
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Change your environment

It’s not rocket science, but it makes a big difference. Try it out!

4. Checking Your Email All the Time

Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. Especially not on your smartphone. Make sure you activate your brain and body and get yourself into an optimal state before doing anything else. Here are a few ideas you can experiment with:

  • Reading for 30+ minutes and taking notes
  • Meditating
  • Going out for a run or going to the gym

5. Being a Perfectionist

If you are trying to live up to a standard that is impossible to reach, how could you NOT be stressed out?

The main reason why perfectionism is harmful to productivity is because of the 80/20 principle, which is surprisingly accurate. This means that the final 20% of completing a task will usually take a disproportionally longer amount of time compared to the first 80%.

How to fix it?

  • Fail a lot. Fail on purpose. Learn that it’s perfectly fine to fail.
  • Ship before the product is completely ready. It hurts the ego, but it usually pays off in the long term.

6. Not Organizing Your To-Do List

If you are not keeping a to-do list or if you don’t have any means of organizing the tasks that you are going to do today, this week, or this month, then you are going to have a hard time staying focused on what to do, because no one can keep everything in their heads.

Some ways to resolve this issue:

  • Keep your to-do list on physical paper
  • Keep a calender or use Google Calender and sync it to your phone
  • Keep a commonplace book to store all your information
  • Buy yourself two whiteboards: one to keep track of goals and to-dos at home and another at work

Or, if you are already keeping a to-do list but it’s giving you more stress or less productivity than you’d like, here’s what you can do:

  • Shorten it. Most people overestimate their efficiency.

7. Not “Warming Up”

Have you ever heard about mental rehearsal?

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It is like visualization, but more specific. It is a term usually associated with elite athletes. Mental rehearsal is when you see yourself doing exactly what you want to be doing. For a short-distance runner, this can mean seeing himself getting off to a perfect start and then winning the race. He sees himself doing all the motions in advance, thus becoming mentally warmed up and prepared to do it in reality.

Another aspect of “warming up” is that you can’t jump between activities without expecting to be a bit less productive. If you are acting in alignment with the 80/20 principle and focusing on the most important things, then you should definitely make sure you get “warmed up” and take responsibility for getting yourself into an optimal state for doing the task.

If you are not doing this, you are missing out.

Here are a few really great ways to “warm up” and get into a state of being highly focused on the task:

  • Before you know you are going to do something important, see yourself doing it first. Don’t divert your thoughts to other things that are not pertinent to the task at hand.
  • Every night before falling asleep, see yourself completing the tasks scheduled on tomorrow’s to-do list.
  • Tell yourself repeatedly what you are going to do next inside your head.

8.  Having Your Phone’s Sound and Vibrate Mode Turned On

If you keep your phone in an active state, you are begging to be interrupted, and interruption demolishes focus and thus productivity. It can take over 15 minutes to get back to a state of high focus after being interrupted.

What can you do about it?

  • Turn it off…

9. Watching YouTube Excessively

If you find yourself watching one YouTube video after another, perhaps it is time to set some serious  limits to your daily use.

Do this:

  • Block your connection to YouTube. Let a friend set the password.

10. Not Knowing How to Say “No”

If you say YES to every thing that comes your way, you will quickly become overwhelmed by tasks and social activities. You will become involved in way more things than you can handle in a productive and optimal manner. By doing this, you will end up doing a ton of things haphazardly rather than a few things well, and you will massively violate the 80/20 principle.

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Here’s a word of wisdom from Steve Jobs for you to ponder:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

11. Postponing Priority One Tasks

Have you heard of the law of diminishing intent?

It states that the longer you postpone doing something that you feel like doing or know that you should be doing, the less you will feel like doing it.

Productive people respect the law of diminishing intent by acting on their key priorities right away and doing the less important things after that.

Do this:

  • As soon as you feel like doing something important you know you should be doing, DO IT!
  • If you don’t feel like doing it, but you are thinking about it, DO IT!

12. Feeling Like You Must Socialize

You don’t have to talk to people unless you want to. It’s OK to focus on your work or studies and keep your door shut. Actually, people are likely to respect you more when you do this, because it suggests that you have respect for yourself and value your time.

Do this:

  • Avoid speaking to people for a day
  • Shut your door
  • Explicitly tell people not to disturb you because you are busy

13. Attending More Meetings than Necessary

If find yourself attending too many meetings, you will inevitably become less productive as a result of being interrupted.

Perhaps this could have been fixed if you knew how to say NO.

Or maybe I am just jumping to the conclusion.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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