Are you unproductive or simply overloaded? Four ways to boost your output

Stop signals were once built into everything we did. For most people, life followed a fairly standard routine: eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and family time, and eight hours of sleep. Now those cues that tell us when to shift gears are becoming harder to find, or perhaps too easy to ignore.

Switching off takes a concerted effort, especially when technology provides a non-stop flow of urgent emails, texts, social media posts and news updates. But unless we find ways to return recovery time to our lives, we are at risk of burning out.

National Director of Psychological Services, and organisational psychologist at the Centre for Corporate Health, Rachel Clements, consults in the professional services sector and has noticed an increase over the past 15 years in people working longer hours without much respite. It’s unsustainable and “we’re seeing a lot of casualties,” she says.

“We’re expecting ourselves to sprint marathons every day, but if the pressure’s been dialled up and there’s less recovery time, you’re effectively working at the expense of your physical and mental well-being, and you won’t last the distance.”

Setting boundaries

Clements believes well-being is becoming a core competency for surviving and thriving in business. Sometimes high workloads are unavoidable, so it’s important to know the quick things you can do throughout the day to recalibrate.  

Like being good at your job, becoming physically fit or getting on top of your psychological health, well-being takes work. Clements recommends stopping and pausing every 90 minutes for a five-minute mindfulness break to refresh your brain and body.

“It can be small things like getting a drink of water, going for a walk outside, talking to a colleague or taking a few deep breaths at your desk and not thinking about anything,” she says. “At home it might be playing with your kids, walking the dog, reading a book, chilling out and watching TV.”

Clements is noticing a real shift in workplace culture when it comes to modelling well-being. “People are speaking positively about leaving the office on time or even early to do things like coach their child’s soccer team or attend a school play,” she says.

Clements’ advice? Don’t be afraid to be assertive about your needs. Set boundaries and make breaks or activities non-negotiable. “That gives you the sense of personal control that can help you rewire your well-being.”

“It can be small things like getting a drink of water, going for a walk outside, talking to a colleague or taking a few deep breaths at your desk and not thinking about anything.”

4 ways to reduce stress and boost output

  1. Get fit. Exercise is the body’s “number one natural antidepressant,” says Clements. Regular physical fitness, as little as a 20-minute walk each day, can improve your sleep cycle and help you become more alert.

  2. Manage expectations. You may not be able to change your workload, but you can actively manage client expectations and deadlines. “Look at workflow allocation,” Clements advises, “and make sure you build in adequate recovery time.” (See: Exercise!)

  3. Be supportive. Burnout can be reduced, even when workloads are high, if people know they’re supported. “Working with a supportive manager or team is a massive protective factor for well-being,” says Clements.

  4. Stay connected. Meaningful connectedness releases the ‘feel good’ hormone, oxytocin, says Clements. “It’s especially important for sole-traders to build a professional network where they can share challenges with each other. And don’t neglect family and friends. Make time with them and be present.”