Reduce workplace stress to be more productive

Michele Don Durbin offers some productivity and stress reduction tips.

Research shows that 75% of British adults in employment commonly experience work-related stress, while 12.8m working days in the UK are lost due to stress each year. Work-related stress is bad for UK workers’ productivity as studies show that increased stress leads to reduced productivity.

Productivity is already a big issue in the UK, with recent research showing that the country’s productivity levels are 16% below the average for the other members of the G7 group of industrial nations (ONS survey). This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the UK Government, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently announcing a new £520m Help to Grow scheme to help small businesses increase their productivity.

Here are some practical steps you can follow to reduce workplace stress and be more productive by working with your brain and its rhythms.

Organise your day for less stress and peak productivity

We have to understand how stress works psychologically so we can do our best work and learn how to work with, rather than against, our biologically-influenced energy rhythms.

Firstly, only focus on one thing at a time. It’s well-established that multitasking is impossible because the mind can only focus on one task at a time. When we get overwhelmed and stressed, we often want to tackle multiple problems at once. 

Learn how to work with, rather than against, our biologically-influenced energy rhythms

Studies show that instead of making us more productive, task switching costs us time. Despite facing a long to-do list or large project, we are more efficient when we focus our mental energy on one and only one idea at a time. 

Work in 45-minute blocks

There is a common belief that we should be focused at work all of the time. However, that’s not possible as research shows that the human mind can only intently focus for a limited amount of time before we get distracted. 

Instead of charging ourselves with working straight through to wrap up projects or meet tight deadlines, we can break our work into smaller chunks, ideally around 45-50 minutes long. This helps you make sure that you are maximising productivity and not burning yourself out by trying to push past your physiological limits.

Take shorter meetings

To help you work in smaller chunks of time outlined above, try shrinking meetings. Just because your calendar may default to creating 30-minute or 60-minute meetings, do they have to be that long? 


Change your calendar settings to default to 25-minute or 50-minute meetings and add back hours of time in your week to work on your most important tasks. This is good for your concentration and it will also help you make meetings more productive.

Take 15-minute mind-wandering breaks

A large body of research on ‘the default mode network’, or the ‘resting’ mind, reveals that mental downtime heightens creativity, aids memory consolidation, and even improves decision-making. Allowing yourself to daydream in sustained chunks (in the form of 15 minute breaks) throughout the day helps to recharge the mind and keep stamina.

Identify your power hour

We all have times of day when we’re most and least productive, which are influenced by our circadian rhythms. For example, most people reach peak productivity between 9:00 am and 11:00 am, dipping in focus around 2:30 pm. 

By identifying when we’re most productive, we can schedule our challenging tasks for when we have maximum alertness and brain power. If you have a very busy day at work and feel stressed about having to get it all done, think about doing the most difficult and mentally tiring tasks during your power hour(s).

Eat nourishing, energising foods

The food we eat directly influences our mental capabilities. For example, if your blood sugar is low, you will find it difficult to concentrate. Whereas if you eat simple carbohydrates like pasta or sugary treats, you will experience an energy and productivity crash

Psychologist Ron Friedman suggests that to maximise productivity, you should decide what food you’re going to eat, when, before you get hungry. Also, eat snacks throughout the day and make healthy, high-protein foods just as convenient as unhealthy ones.

Ultimately, tuning into your brain’s capacities and circadian rhythms can help you manage your workdays to not feel conventional or span as many hours as before. 

By understanding your human rhythms, you become more efficient, eliminate excess stress, and potentially get exponentially more productive at whatever matters most to you.  


About the author

Michele Don Durbin is Evernote‘s SVP of marketing.


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