This post is part 1 of a multi-part series on how to eliminate stress at work with strategies informed by modern scientific research and ancient philosophy. To get instant access to the complete series, as well as exclusive bonus content that I don’t share on the blog, subscribe to my free Art of Output Insider’s List.
When I went into sales I threw my everything into it. Waking up at 5, working til 8pm or later, Monday through Friday, and working 5-10 hours on Sunday to prepare for the week.
The result? My performance was squarely, disappointingly in the middle of the pack.
I knew something had to change. So I set up some time to shadow with two of our company’s most successful reps.
They worked 35, MAYBE 40 hours a week. And, they weren’t working more “productively” – making more calls, or serving more customers – during those hours. Yet, they were raking it in. And they had fun doing it!
Their success flew in the face of everything I knew about what it took to be successful. I thought that to be successful, you had to cram as much into your day as possible, to clock in early and to stay late, and to take on as many extra projects as you can.
Yet, the numbers don’t lie.
The beautiful thing about sales is that it’s very easily to quantify how effective (or not) what you’re doing is.
It wasn’t until years later that I could truly understand why those two were so successful. While skill had something to do with it, what I’ve come to realize is that one of their greatest advantages was that they unlike me, a stress-case and a half, these guys didn’t stress, and really had no reason to.
The latest research shows that stress has profound impacts on the quality of work.
According to Harvard psychologist Robert Epstein, stress is a “well-known creativity killer.”
Decision making? Turns out that when we’re more stressed, we’re more inclined to lean on “irrational biases.”
Learning and memory? Toast.
When you’re overstressed, you’re more prone to making mistakes that create more downstream work. You’re more likely to snap at a colleague, damaging a professional relationship that you may very well depend on to thrive at your job. You’ll bring less energy and enthusiasm to the work at hand.
Worse yet – unhealthy stress creates a vicious cycle. When we’re stressed, we don’t do as well on the job…which creates even more stress!
And as people grow in their careers, it’s a problem gets worse. Promotions bring more responsibility, and more pressure to succeed – leading to more stress.
Without developing the toolset to effectively manage stress, it’s inevitable that at some point, we will get to the point where your stress is simply too much to handle, and your professional performance becomes compromised.
Because of this, sadly, most people find themselves on the “stress hamster wheel” at some point in their professional lives.
Because of that, I find it ironic that so many people think that in order to realize professional success, we need to push ourselves past our limits and subject ourselves to extreme stress.
Quite the opposite – in order to truly thrive at work, we actually need to DECREASE stress in order to circumvent its work-harming side-effects.
What’s the takeaway?
If you’re going to invest ANYWHERE in your professional development, you should invest in reducing your stress, not increasing your productivity with random “hacks.” While most productivity strategies are additive in nature – say, you find some hack that helps you spend 10 minutes less per day on email – those strategies have a built-in ceiling. Reducing your stress creates multiplicative, exponential impact on the quality of your work. On the other hand – simply working harder when you’re overstressed can be like multiplying by zero.
Eliminating stress is the lead domino you can knock down to create downstream positive goodness across your entire life.
Or at least that’s what I’ve found. After experiencing first hand that overworking and overstressing myself wasn’t going to lead to better results, I started to focus more time and energy towards eliminating stress and anxiety from my life.
And counterintuitively, after doing so, my career really began to take off.
Seeing the impact that stress reduction can have on the quality of both life and work, I’ve launched a 30+ page a guide for subscribers to my free Insiders List that captures everything I’ve learned, tested, and refined to help transform my professional life from one-filled with stress to one filled with joy.
If you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or burned out from work, I highly recommend you check it out.