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 coffee!
But since we’re both here, it seems likely that neither of us are totally satisfied with that kind of advice.
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 the world.
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. Stressful, right?
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-life balance”.
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 is better.
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 life.
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.
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.