If Stress Reduces Productivity, Then…

Some people work better under a little pressure, such as a deadline.  Some prefer a more relaxed atmosphere.  To each his/her own.  Except, when we work in an organization, we don’t always get to design our environment.  Over the years, I have sensed that at most workplaces, people are getting more and more stressed out, feeling as if there is not enough time to do most things (definitely not everything), and even more acutely, the need to attend to everything now.  The ubiquitous emails follow you everywhere, via laptop and smartphone, till you go to bed, and even then…  While research has pointed to the diminishing productivity of multi-tasking, we keep juggling — and feel the need to do so — several tasks day in and day out.

Just thinking about it makes me tie knots in my stomach, and I don’t even work for anyone these days.  So, the very title, “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive,” by Tony Schwartz in New York Times (link below), elicited “YES!!” from me.

Mr. Schwartz’s major points are these:  While time is a resource, it is limited and cannot be renewed.  In order to carry out the increasing workload, we hardly can ask for more time; instead, we need to renew our energy level to execute what we need to do.  And no, 5-hour energy drinks, or any other stimulants, aren’t the long-term answer.  We need to relax, going for a jog, taking a nap, reading for fun, or meditating…etc.  Mr. Schwartz mentions that interdisciplinary research has shown “strategic renewal [of our energy] boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”  Furthermore, “Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity.”

Another paradox of relaxation:  Body tired, spirit soaring!

Another paradox of relaxation: Body tired, spirit soaring!

Mr. Schwartz indicates that he practices what he preaches, and structures his company with designated areas to relax, and allowing employees to take lunch hours away from office sites, to work from home when needed, and to not answer emails after 6PM.  He has consulted and incorporated such principles for many organizations.  I wonder if those organizations have carried out such practices, and if the practices have been sustainable?  I suspect that organizations that actually allow a sane work environment and lifestyle are the exceptions rather than the rule.

The readers’ responses to this article are fascinating and disheartening.  Out of 200+ responses, only a handful of readers seem to have, on their own, found some means for relaxation.  Most readers express dismay at such utopian notion and/or resignation to reality.  One person says it well, “In this country, one does not ‘chose’ a way of life, one ‘affords’ a lifestyle.”  This person mentions she doesn’t have medical insurance coverage.  Another wonders if this article is for decision-makers or the workforce at large. Yet another makes an excellent point about “profit” dictating market economy.  Indeed, employees in the financial industry seem to treat 70-80 hours/week work schedules as badges of honor.  And look at what that industry has done for us?!  (“You promised me Mars colonies. Instead, I got Facebook”: http://radioboston.wbur.org/2012/11/16/failed-future-mars-facebook)

I am quite aware of how seemingly futile it is to buck the system most of the time.    So, help yourself and your colleagues, however small effort it may be, to find ways to chill occasionally.  Of course, please don’t make this an all-consuming goal!

Wishing you a relatively relaxed week.  Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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