Stress Management As Productivity

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We’re awash in productivity advice telling us how to get things done, how to prioritize, and so on. I should know, I give some of this advice, but I’d like to pull away the curtain a bit and discuss what a good chunk of productivity tips involve.

They involve stress management.

Sure, productivity gurus and coaches won’t say that. In fact, they may not even realize it – they’re all focused on how much you get done and how to make it easier. But to get things done requires focus, reduction of distraction, and reducing mental friction – which is really a form of stress reduction. These gurus and coaches, even the good ones, may not see it.

So, I’ll put it simply: a lot of productivity tips involve preventing, reducing, or controlling stress and worry.

A lot of productivity advice will have you review and be aware of what you’re doing, from backlogs to graphs to BVBs – Big Visible Boards. Though this may sound anxiety producing, it gives you an idea of where you are and what’s going on – it reduces the anxiety of the unknown.

“Responding to change” is a big part of productivity advice, and a core part of Agile philosophy. But by saying you can respond to change, all the advice-givers and coaches help you acknowledge and cope with change. By admitting things change and you can to, a lot of anxiety is removed.

Review sessions, retrospective, backlog polishing? All those times we productivity enthusiasts tell you to look at what’s coming up, prioritize work, and ask what’s important? That’s stress-reducing as well – because you’re able to ask what’s in the future, then get back to the present. It’s a trick for helping you stay aware – so you can stop stressing.

Breaking work down to manageable chunks? Next steps to take? That’s all helping you stay aware and take manageable bits of work you can get done – so you’re productive, aware, and not overwhelmed. It’s simple time management, but it reduces fear and anxiety.

Most productivity advice has a strong element of stress reduction or is about stress reduction. I just like to admit it now that I see it.

However, this truth also conceals something else – if methods of productivity cause stress, it’s important to ask why, because that’s revealing.

Is it because you’re focusing on the method and not the results, worried about dotting every “i” and doing each task perfectly? Then you’ve learned something about YOU.

Is it because external factors are keeping you from working? Are you organized but there’s so many dependencies and problems and needs you can’t work? Then you learned something about your ENVIRONMENT.

Is it because the method isn’t working with your life and challenges? Then you learned you NEED A NEW METHOD of productivity.

Productivity tips and systems should reduce stress. That’s the point – directly or indirectly. If we admit it, we can be more productive.

Which is, if you think of it, less stressful.

Steven Savage