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 Job-related stress is a funny, complicated thing.

With too much stress, productivity declines. Conversely, too little stress and motivation declines. Just the right amount, in the form of a good challenge, and we hum along, knocking tasks out of the sky with energy and creativity.

How, then, do we hit the sweet spot? How do we increase productivity at work without stressing ourselves out, losing sleep and feeling worthless?

Well, a new year begs a fresh start. Begin by approaching work productivity from a different angle. Consider the tried-and-true methods you’ve been reading about or trying for years. Flip them over and take another look. “Tried and true” may have become passé or been proven entirely wrong.

If you force yourself to look at things differently, you’ve done yourself a great favour. You jump start your brain. Now you are more likely to break out of a productivity funk.

A fresh brain can make an accurate and honest appraisal of your work life. And armed with the truth, you are better prepared to adapt and perform well at a consistently high level.

1. Down with Multitasking

You’re only as good as the number of balls you can juggle at once. Right?

Wrong. Juggling many tasks equals stress. Moving from one task to another and back forces your brain to work harder than it should.

You’re not a circus performer. You’re only as good as the number of tasks you can do well on a given day. The switching back and forth can decrease your productivity by 40 per cent. You lose IQ points when you’re trying to email during a phone call or texting throughout the time you write that 10-page report.

“But I have to do so many things in a day!!! You have no idea. I have to do many things at once, or I won’t survive. Waaah!!!” Yeah, we hear you. Welcome to the 21st century, where family, work, outside commitments, technology, and attempts to relax all compete for your attention every waking moment.

Here’s the truth bomb: Taking things one at a time will get you through that long to-do list more efficiently. The bonus? You decrease your stress by accomplishing tasks in turn. The result? If you continue to try to take on more than one thing at a time, stress hormones increase, and then your body starts acting up.

Stop trying to do everything at once.

2. Work a Few Days from Home

Employers have long feared employees exploiting work-from-home scenarios by not working hard, by dialling it in.

They fear employees thinking, “No one is watching! I can shove Cheetos down my gullet and watch Netflix all day long. Yee Haw!”

What if employees claim to be working hours that they haven’t? Company efficiency will decrease. Attrition and turnover will increase. Costs will increase. No boss wants to squander the company’s resources, human or any other kind. But when the idea of working from home was put under an analytical microscope, the results showed a completely different reality.

A Stanford University study compared groups of at-home employees and those who stayed at HQ and found the opposite. They found work-from-home subjects worked so efficiently that they produced an extra full day’s worth of work when allowed to stay home.

They saved commuting time and avoided commute stress. They could focus on a given task instead of being forced to multi-task by dealing with the competing demands bosses and co-workers.

While the at-home workers felt more in control of their work and produced better results, they also felt too isolated working only from home. But if your employer offers you the chance to work a few days from home each work, go ahead and take it.

3. Daydream

Sometimes our minds wander away from what we’re doing. You are crunching numbers and wonder if there are cereal and milk ready for the kids in the morning. Your boss comes in for a chat, and her crisp work blouse reminds you that you have a ton of ironing to do once you get home.

In school, you might have been called lazy, slow or a non-paying-attention troublemaker. At work, a boss would question your commitment and value to the organization.

But daydreaming doesn’t signal you are “less than” others. It indicates your brain is operating at a high level. The smart folks at Georgia Tech determined that a wandering mind often needs to wander because those brains are so efficient, they have too much brain capacity to stay on one thing.

They looked at the brain at rest and compared those results with tests that measured intellectual and creative ability. Then they asked how much daydreaming each person did during the day. More daydreaming equalled better mental capacity and creativity.

That free-form thinking known as daydreaming is your brain sorting through innovative ideas and making connections it usually wouldn’t make locked onto something in a given moment.

Every employer on this planet needs creative problem solvers. Allow your mind to wander some each day. It’s not bad for you or your ability to produce good work results.

Being Productive in the Office

4. Prioritize Sleep

When we talk about productivity at work, we have to talk about how to be physically and mentally strong enough to do that.

Good luck scoring that double of brain and body health while tired. You can’t. Americans are not sleeping enough, and it costs our economy some 400 billion dollars every year. That extra two hours of sleep you trade in for video gaming each night is hurting our economy.

Numbers don’t lie. Check out these from the Cleveland Clinic.

  • 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough sleep
  • Staying awake for 16+ hours is like having a blood alcohol level of 0.05 per cent. (Legally drunk is 0.08.)
  • If you fall asleep in less than five minutes, you’re probably sleep-deprived. (It should take 10 to 15 minutes.)
  • After age 18, all adults, including seniors, need between 7-9 hours of sleep daily.

The science behind sleep deprivation sends a clear message. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will be slower to react, not as efficient, easier to get angry and much more likely to suffer from physical and mental ailments.

You need to sleep. To get good sleep, you need a good sleep environment, asleep cocoon, if you will. The best sleep cocoons address lighting, temperature and accoutrements like mattresses and pillows.

5. Forget Work; Focus on Career

Are we splitting hairs with this advice? Only a smidge.

But stay with us on this one. Because, if life is only about working for a paycheck, we’re all missing the boat to finding fulfilment.

Work is more like the thing you do to earn a paycheck. Collecting and applying work experiences in new situations to grow as a person and a professional is a way you build a career. Work is the building block. The goal is to have a job that makes you feel capable of a lifetime.

When you think about how to become more productive at work, start by developing yourself as a professional.

  • Which skills should I learn to become a more well-rounded professional?
  • Which people can teach me something valuable to grow in my profession?
  • Are there any projects going on at work that I feel I can add to?

If you view work through the lens of building a profession, you will continue to grow.

And when we are working to grow, we push ourselves past our limits. And if we succeed in finding new horizons, that can energize us. And when we have energy, we are more productive. We feel we can do just about anything when we have energy.

Use your productivity well. Good luck in 2019.  

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