I recently posted an article called Creating a Sense of Urgency that talked about how to be more productive by creating a sense of urgency for yourself to get things done.
In the comments, someone asked why I was encouraging more stress, and what I meant by saying “stress isn’t always a bad thing.” This is what I meant:
The Stress of Working Out
Exercise and working out is the practice of stressing your muscles and body in the attempt to make them stronger.
While you’ll (hopefully) never have to run 26-miles consecutive miles, half a million people run a marathon every year for the purpose of training their body (and accomplishing an amazing feat). And while you can push too hard to the point of injury or death, by applying the right amount of stress, you can become stronger and healthier.
The Stress of Working
Just as stress is what makes our bodies stronger, the same is true for work–it’s just a different type of stress and a different skill-set that we’re making stronger. Whereas exercise stress strengthens our muscles and capacity to lift weights or run, work stress strengthens our brain and capacity to get things done.
But just like exercise, overdoing it with work stress can have just as bad of side effects. Too much stress, or chronic stress, can result in memory problems, lead to depression, or even cause chest pain–certainly not positives.
The Right Amount of Stress
For both exercise and work-related stress, the key to growth and development is in applying the right amount of stress. What’s the right amount? 92.6 minute of stress per day… I’m kidding.
The right amount of stress can’t be measured exactly and is different for every person. And while there isn’t an exact science, there are a few guidelines to managing stress:
- Push Yourself
Almost all of the benefits of exercise come at the end of the workout, when you are pushing yourself past what you’ve accomplished before. The same is true for stress–you will grow your capacity to do work by pushing yourself to work better and more efficiently than you have in the past.
- Rest and Recuperate
The most important time for muscle growth is the recuperation period. While it’s important to stress your muscles, it’s even more important to give them ample time to rebuild and get stronger. The same is true for work–if you are constantly stressed-out, you don’t give your body and mind the time to recuperate and grow stronger–instead it has the opposite effect.
- Provide Fuel
Eating right is crucial to seeing gains (or fat loss) in your workouts. While you will see some positive health effects simply from working out, when you combine it with a healthy diet, you really see the benefits. Work is the same way, but fuel here isn’t just a healthy diet: it’s exercising, relaxing, taking strategic breaks, and having a strong sense of purpose. They will all help to fuel you through your work.
Manage Stress for Improvement
Stress isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary to becoming more efficient, productive, and effective. The key is managing stress in such a way that it helps you grow and improve, but doesn’t impact your work, life, or health negatively.
To do this, like with exercise, you want to systematically increase your capacity to deal with stress. Our body and mind grow through increased stress, not continual stress–that means to push ourselves further, but to still take breaks, to re-charge, and to provide the proper fuel.
Why Stress Isn’t a Bad Thing
So if we hope to improve our productivity and ability to work over time, stress is a must to push us past our current ability–and that’s why stress isn’t a bad thing.