How To Be Productive When Stressed And Anxious

Stress and anxiety can seriously kill your productivity. How to stay efficient and keep delivering in such times? How to be productive when stressed?

Perhaps you’re waking up tired these mornings. Every day, you drag your stressed body out of bed.

After some time, you’re at work. As the day progresses, it’s a bigger struggle to keep going. Your body feels drained and your mind buzzes with anxiety.

Stress and anxiety together can drastically reduce your productivity. You are not alone in this, as anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults or 18.1% of the US population.

So, how can you handle your work and achieve decent results while managing stress?

Let’s start with the world’s three most popular productivity hacks:

  1. The Two-Minute Rule: If you come across a task that can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately instead of postponing it. This simple rule helps you quickly tackle small tasks and prevents them from piling up​.
  2. The 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle): This rule suggests 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results. Identifying and focusing on those high-impact tasks (the 20%), you can maximize your productivity​.
  3. The Eisenhower Matrix: This is a method to prioritize your tasks based on their urgency and importance. It helps you decide which tasks need your immediate attention, which ones you should schedule for later, which ones you should delegate, and which ones you should not do at all​.
How I Use The Eisenhower Matrix To Prioritise My Work

How To Be Productive When Stressed And Anxious

Stress can make you less productive and drive you to burnout. But you can learn how others handled their productivity experiences as they coped with stress.

Here are some helpful ways to be productive when having stress and anxiety:

1. Build A Daily Routine

A well-structured daily routine helps you become more productive without adding to your stress.

  • Misconception about Routines: While often perceived as monotonous and anxiety-inducing, a well-structured daily routine can actually serve as a strong defense against stress and help maintain productivity levels.
  • Chaos without Routine: Without a routine, the chaos of daily life can make us feel overwhelmed by tasks and responsibilities. The uncertainty of what comes next can amplify feelings of stress and anxiety.
  • Routine as a Roadmap: Creating a daily routine is like designing a roadmap for your day. It involves crafting a plan that outlines when, why, and how each task will be completed.
  • Identify Key Tasks: Begin your daily routine by identifying the most important tasks for the day and breaking them down into manageable parts.
  • Prioritize Tasks: Prioritize these tasks based on urgency and importance, and allocate specific time slots to work on them. This practice, known as time-blocking, can enhance focus and efficiency.
  • Incorporate Breaks: Incorporate breaks into your schedule as well, since regular rest intervals can prevent burnout and boost productivity.
  • Self-Care and Relaxation: Don’t forget to set aside time for self-care and relaxation activities, as these can help rejuvenate your mind and keep stress at bay.
  • Control Over Activities: By sticking to your daily routine, you’ll find that you’re in control. This sense of command over your activities can drastically diminish stress, instilling a sense of comfort and confidence in your work environment.
  • Proactive Approach: This proactive approach not only helps avert any unpleasant surprises but also allows you to derive genuine enjoyment from your work, transforming stress into a catalyst for productivity.

2. Divide Tasks Into Smaller Units

When faced with a big task, dread and apprehension are natural feelings.

  • Feeling Overwhelmed: When confronted with a large task spanning a week or more, it’s natural to feel dread and apprehension, leading to stress and diminished productivity.
  • Principle of Divide and Conquer: One technique to manage this is the “divide and conquer” approach. It involves breaking a large task into smaller, manageable segments, making the task seem less daunting and aiding in its completion.
  • Smaller Segments, Less Overwhelming: By focusing on less overwhelming chunks of work, you can enjoy a series of small victories along the way, boosting morale and motivation.
  • Example – Writing a Book: If tasked with writing a 300-page book in two months, rather than seeing it as one huge project, break it down into chapters or sections. Set a daily goal, such as writing five to ten pages, making the task more manageable.
  • Consistent Progress: As each day passes, you’ll make consistent progress, gradually completing the larger task. This approach can be applied to various tasks, from work projects to home improvements.
  • Better Planning and Scheduling: Segmenting tasks also allows for better planning and scheduling, as you can allocate specific time slots to each segment, leading to more effective time management and increased productivity.
  • Large Task Breakdown: Remember, every large task is a collection of smaller tasks. By dividing your work into these smaller units, you can greatly reduce the stress associated with large projects and enhance your productivity, even under stress.
How to be productive when stressed

3. Forget Multitasking

“Multitasking is a myth. In reality, it’s rapidly switching from one task to another, and then back again.”

– Dr. Sahar Yousef, Cognitive Neuroscientist, UC Berkeley

Multitasking is actually task-switching. Task switching consumes mental energy (“switch-cost”), meaning you are more likely to get less done and make more errors.

A report reveals that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, whereas multitaskers make up to 50% more errors.

Here are eight ways to stop multitasking and be more productive:

  1. Document Your Distractions: When you recall something important while working, write it down. This alleviates the fear of forgetting it later and ensures your focus remains uninterrupted. Whether you keep a simple paper list or use a digital to-do list with a “quick-add” feature, the aim is to minimize disruption to your workflow​.
  2. Understand Your Energy Levels: Distinguish between tasks that genuinely energize you and those that merely seem easy. Maintaining a mental health journal to monitor your energy levels can help identify activities that boost your morale and productivity​.
  3. Set Priorities and Deadlines: It’s crucial to identify which tasks hold the highest importance and need to be tackled first. Assigning clear priorities and deadlines to each task can help you resist the temptation to multitask, especially when the current task is monotonous. Recognizing the time frame for each task can guide you on when to dedicate singular focus on it​​.
  4. Break Down Large Tasks: Large tasks can seem overwhelming. By breaking them down into smaller, manageable units, they become less daunting, allowing you to progress steadily and enjoy the satisfaction of small victories.
  5. Take Regular Breaks: Taking breaks every 20-30 minutes can prevent you from getting bogged down. Stand up, stretch, and move around to refresh your mind and body.
  6. Delegate Tasks: If you have the option, delegate tasks to others. This can free up your time to focus on the most critical tasks, enhancing your productivity.
  7. Learn to Say No: If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to say no to new commitments. Protecting your time and mental energy is crucial for sustained productivity.
  8. Close Apps When Done: Limit digital distractions by closing applications as soon as you’re finished using them. Maintain only those apps necessary for your current task, and cultivate the habit of closing apps to prevent dividing your attention across various objectives​.

These strategies can greatly enhance your productivity and reduce the stress that comes from juggling multiple tasks at once.

Remember, success isn’t about doing everything at once, but about accomplishing each task effectively and efficiently.

4. Avoid Social Media and Other Distractions

In this digital age, it’s almost impossible not to get sucked into the vortex of social media.

Excessive social media use can trigger procrastination and anxiety.

  • Acknowledge the Drawbacks of Social Media: Understand that while social media can be a source of inspiration and connection, it can also be a productivity drain and trigger feelings of inadequacy due to unrealistic representations of life.
  • Create a Distraction-Free Zone: Consider setting up a physical area where your phone or other devices are not allowed. Alternatively, designate a specific block of time dedicated solely to focusing on your work.
  • Embrace the Challenge: Recognize that maintaining a distraction-free zone may seem difficult initially, but with persistence, it can lead to noticeable improvements in productivity levels.
  • Use Social Media Blockers: If self-discipline isn’t enough, use technology to your advantage. Social media blockers can restrict access to these sites during certain hours, enabling you to focus on your tasks without interruptions.
  • Turn Off Social Media Notifications: Another straightforward yet effective method is to disable social media notifications. This approach eliminates constant interruptions that could divert your attention from work, thus supporting a more focused workflow.
  • Establish a Social Media Schedule: Define a specific time slot for browsing social media. This strategy ensures that social media use doesn’t interfere with your work hours, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of these platforms without them negatively impacting your productivity and focus.
  • Control Social Media Usage, Don’t Eradicate: The goal isn’t to completely eliminate social media from your life, but rather to manage its usage so it doesn’t obstruct your personal and professional endeavors.

Did you know Facebook friends actually reduce your happiness?

5. Practice Centering

Another very useful stress-reduction mechanism is centering, a popular visualization technique that teaches you to focus on the here and now, taking power away from outside concerns and negative thoughts, and helping you remain stable and grounded.

The centering technique can help you to regain focus and achieve a stable mental condition using seven simple steps:

  • Find a focal point below your eye level to eliminate possible distractions.
  • Define your intention. This is a professional objective you are trying to achieve, no matter what. It’s a task that you choose to complete regardless of stress and anxiety.
  • Take a deep breath and keep doing it steadily. It’s a simple trick that can help you to calm down and find your inner strength.
  • Stay positive. Try to eliminate negative feelings and build a positive attitude. That way, you will gradually release tension and anxiety.
  • Identify your energy center. According to the centering philosophy, a human body has a unique spot that represents a person’s center of energy.
  • Visualize success. Let the brain imagine your victory and use this image as a valuable source of inspiration.
  • Use your newly-discovered energy. By this point, you should have more than enough inner strength to overcome anxiety and focus on your tasks.

6. Don’t Forget To Take Breaks

Taking regular breaks is an essential component of maintaining both physical and mental health. It is an effective strategy to mitigate stress and anxiety often associated with prolonged periods of work without rest. However, merely setting aside time for short daily breaks might not be sufficient. Here are some strategies and practices to enhance your break times and thus improve your overall well-being and productivity.

  • Mindful Breaks: Being intentional about how you spend your breaks can make a significant difference. Rather than just stepping away from your work, engage in activities that help you relax and rejuvenate. This could include short meditation sessions, stretches, or even listening to some calming music.
  • Set Boundaries: The omnipresence of technology can blur the line between work and personal time. It’s critical to establish clear boundaries. Avoid checking work emails or engaging in any work-related tasks during your off-hours, including evenings and weekends. This will help you fully unplug and rejuvenate.
  • Annual Vacations: Annual vacations are an excellent way to disconnect from your work environment and recharge. Try to immerse yourself in new experiences, exploring different cultures, trying new cuisines, and generally engaging in activities that enrich your life and help you relax. However, it’s important to truly disconnect from work during these times for maximum benefit.
  • Understanding the Science of Breaks: Research indicates that the most productive people work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes. This is known as the Pomodoro Technique. Understanding the science of breaks can help you optimize your work and rest periods for maximum productivity and well-being.
  • Physical Activity: Incorporating some form of physical activity during your breaks can be beneficial. This could be a short walk, some light stretching, or even a quick workout. Regular physical activity can reduce feelings of anxiety and improve mood.
  • Nutrition: Using break times to ensure you’re nourishing your body with healthy foods is also an important aspect. Proper nutrition can increase energy levels, improve mood, and support overall health.
  • Mindful Breathing: Practices like mindful breathing or meditation during breaks can be an effective way to reduce stress and anxiety, improving your ability to focus when you return to work.
  • Hobbies: Engaging in hobbies or activities that you enjoy during breaks can provide a mental respite from work. This helps to reduce stress and can improve overall job satisfaction and productivity.
  • Socializing: Breaks can also be a good time to connect with others. This could be colleagues, friends, or family. Socializing can improve your mood and provide a pleasant distraction from work-related thoughts.
  • Nature Breaks: If possible, spending your break time in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, can reduce anger, fear, and stress while increasing pleasant feelings.

These are just some ways to make the most of your break times. The key is to find what works best for you and helps you recharge effectively​.

7. Take Action And Exercise Regularly

A regular exercise habit can help you stay productive during times of stress. Here’s how:

  • Stress Relief: Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever. It can help reduce feelings of anxiety and improve your mood by promoting the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters.
  • Enhanced Focus: Exercise can increase the ability to focus and concentrate. Regular physical activity promotes better blood flow to the brain, helping to improve cognitive functions, including concentration.
  • Improved Energy Levels: Regular exercise can boost your energy levels. By keeping your body active, you stimulate the cardiovascular system and increase blood flow, thus enhancing your energy reserves and productivity.
  • Better Sleep: Regular physical activity can contribute to better sleep, a crucial component of stress management. Good quality sleep can enhance your mood, mental clarity, and overall productivity.
  • Healthy Routine: Establishing a regular exercise routine can provide structure in your daily schedule, instilling a sense of normalcy and control, which can be beneficial during stressful periods.
  • Resilience to Stress: Regular exercise can enhance your body’s ability to handle stress by improving the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. This can help you stay calm and composed during stressful situations, thereby maintaining productivity.
  • Overall Wellbeing: Regular physical activity contributes to overall well-being. It can help maintain a healthy weight, strengthen the immune system, and promote cardiovascular health, all of which can keep you in optimal physical condition to handle stress effectively.

The type of exercise can be based on personal preference, from vigorous activities like running or cycling to low-impact exercises such as walking or yoga.

The key is to stay consistent and make it a part of your routine. Find out how to make exercise a daily habit.

8. Use The Adrenaline To Your Advantage

It’s natural to view anxiety as an adversary, but it’s not entirely detrimental. One of the intriguing aspects of anxiety is its ability to elevate adrenaline levels in your body, an effect that can be harnessed to turbocharge your productivity.

Under the influence of anxiety, your brain sends signals to your adrenal gland, instructing it to release epinephrine, or adrenaline, into your system. And what does this adrenaline surge do?

  1. It accelerates your heart rate, priming your body for action.
  2. It mobilizes fat reserves for energy, providing an extra boost to your stamina.
  3. It dilates your pupils, enhancing your visual acuity.
  4. It prioritizes critical bodily functions, like cognition, by diverting resources to them.

These physiological changes mimic the effects of consuming a strong cup of coffee. The key lies in channeling these anxiety-induced adrenaline effects to your advantage. The spike in energy and heightened cognitive functions can be utilized to focus more effectively on the task at hand and complete it with enhanced efficiency.

This strategy of capitalizing on anxiety is well-documented in the realm of sports psychology. Athletes frequently leverage their pre-game anxiety to stay hyper-focused and perform at their peak.

Similarly, in a work or study context, reframing anxiety as a potential ally rather than an enemy can contribute to improved productivity, turning a stressful situation into an opportunity for growth.

Final Words

Stress and anxiety are genuine productivity killers that can seriously undermine your professional efforts and turn you into an underachiever.

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Author Bios: Leon Collier, a freelance writer, wrote a short, early version of it. Extensively rewritten, expanded, researched, and edited by Sandip Roy.

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