8 Research-Backed Ways to Improve Focus and Reduce Stress at Work
Stress is an inevitable part of entrepreneurial life.
No matter how smart you are, how much you love what you do, or how many productivity hacks you deploy, you are going to get stressed out.
In small doses, stress can be a positive thing that drives greater levels of performance and success.
However, when allowed to go unchecked…when stress and anxiety become a chronic and inescapable part of your daily life…it can wreak havoc on your performance and prevent you from achieving the impact, income, and influence you desire.
In this article, I’m going to give you 8 research-backed strategies to manage your stress levels, improve your focus, and live a happier, healthier, and more balanced life.
Why Chronic Stress is Killing You (And Your Business)
As a high-performer, it’s easy to think that chronic stress is “no big deal.”
You think to yourself, “This is just the way it is! I have big goals and dreams so of course, I’m going to deal with stress.”
But when you look at the research, you will realize exactly what stress is costing you.
- According to The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, stress is a “hazard in the workplace” that costs the American economy more than $300 billion annually.
- A Harvard Medical School study found that 23% of workers struggle with insomnia (heavily correlated with chronic stress) and sleep deprivation costs companies more than $63 billion a year in lost profits
- 75% to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints (source).
- Chronic stress has been correlated with heart problems, asthma, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, headaches, and even skin conditions.
And those are just the studies I could find with a perfunctory Google search!
There is a plethora of studies and research showing, on no uncertain terms, that our crazy and chaotic work lives aren’t just costing us our health, performance, and sanity…but that they’re actually reducing our effectiveness at work and preventing us from achieving the goals we’ve set.
An Unscientific Paradigm Shift to Reduce Stress and Beat Overwhelm for Good
Before sharing the research-backed strategies you can use to combat and reduce stress, improve your focus, and achieve more while working less, I want to address what I believe to be the source of chronic stress and overwork among high-achieving entrepreneurs.
A myopic focus on short-term gains over sustained, long-term success.
It’s been said that “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year but underestimate what they can accomplish in 2-3 decades.”
And, in my experience, this short term approach to life and success is at the heart of all chronic stress and overwhelm.
Simply put, most high-performers over emphasize short term successes while downplaying their long term potential.
They want results and they want them now.
What they fail to realize, however, is that life is not a game played in months or years, but decades.
When you get too caught up in what is happening right now, stress and overwhelm are inevitable. You burn yourself out over seemingly urgent projects that, in the grand scheme of things, are of little importance.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t work hard. You should. And it’s not to say that there will not be short periods of imbalance and chronic stress. There will.
Simply that sustained peak performance and lifelong mastery should be your #1 objective.
Instead of shining brightly for a moment and burning out prematurely, commit to the long game. Realize that you have time. And that you aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any favor by martyring yourself in the name of speed and productivity.
8 Research-Backed Ways to Improve Focus and Reduce Stress
Although accepting the long-game approach to success is important, it can also feel esoteric. And reaping the benefits of this concept requires time and intense introspection. So, here are 8 research-backed (and slightly counter-intuitive) tactics to help you combat stress, increase your focus, and live a more balanced life today.
1. Take Out the Trash (No…Really)
As counter-intuitive as it might sound, a study from the University of Florida concluded that repetitive and seemingly mundane chores like doing the dishes and vacuuming the house can successfully calm your mind and alleviate stress.
It might not be the sexiest stress reliever, but I can tell you from personal experience, it’s wickedly effective. You’ll save money on cleaning expenses, reduce your stress and anxiety, and enjoy the added benefit of a cleaner and healthier home.
And if you still need some extra convincing, just remember that Bill Gates, despite his army of cleaners and assistants, still washes the dishes before bed every night.
2. Get an Early Morning Dose of “Earth, Wind, and Fire”
No, not the band (although they’re awesome and I highly encourage you to dance like a madman to September at least once a week).
I’m referring to the practices of earthing (earth), breathing (wind), and sun exposure (fire).
Cheesy. I know.
Studies have shown that getting direct physical contact with the earth (standing in the grass or dirt with bare feet), deep breathing (study), and early morning sun exposure (study) provide a host of positive benefits from decreased stress and inflammation, to stronger immunity, to improved mood.
By spending 10-15 minutes standing barefoot in your yard and taking a few deep breaths, you can reap all of these benefits for the price of one.
3. Work Like You Sleep
The human brain did not evolve to work single-mindedly on one task for hours on end.
In the same way that your body goes through different sleep stages (light, deep, and REM) during a 90-minute time period, your ability to focus waxes and wanes every 60-90 minutes ( (something scientists refer to as your “ultradian rhythm”).
Instead of fighting this and trying to “power through” your work (decreasing both the quality and quantity of your output), respect the natural order and work in 50-90 minute increments punctuated by restorative breaks.
4. Use the Russian “GTG” Method to Strengthen Your Body and Mind
Former Spetznaz Operator turned kettlebell evangelist and world-renowned strength coach Pavel Tsaouline (pronounced sat-soo-lin), developed a unique method for helping athletes develop superhuman strength.
It’s called “Grease the Groove” (GTG) and it goes like this.
Pick an exercise you want to improve and then train it frequently but not intensely throughout the day. For example, if you want to get better at pushups and you can currently do 25, you would do 5-10 pushups 10-20 times throughout the day.
For our purposes, however, you’re going to use the GTG method to both increase your physical strength and reduce stress and improve focus by engaging in light physical activity every time you take a break.
Studies have clearly shown that exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while increasing focus, positivity, and productivity.
After working for 50-90 minutes, start your break by doing pushups, pullups, or air squats (if you’re lucky enough to have a home gym you can do some light compound lifting). You’ll be less stressed, more focused, and physically stronger for it.
5. Sleep Like Your Life Depends on It (Because It Does)
By now, you already know that sleep deprivation is one of the most detrimental forces to your productivity and stress. Studies have even shown that driving while sleep deprived is worse than driving while legally drunk!
So I won’t belabor this point too much.
Suffice it to say that if you value your productivity and care about your mental and physical health, you must get at least 7 hours of sleep a night and, ideally one or two 20-minute naps throughout the day (studies have shown napping actually provides additional benefits that monophasic sleep doesn’t).
Seriously, get some sleep. You need it.
6. Prioritize Your Social Life
As a high-performer, it’s easy to let your social life slip through the cracks. To skip guys/girls night in favor of staying at the office and to alienate the people closest to you on your never-ending quest to increase your income and impact.
But studies have shown that prioritizing your social life is one of the single most important things you can do for your mental and physical health.
Lonely individuals regularly report higher levels of depression, anxiety, and overwhelm and tend to have more health complications and shorter life spans than their well-socialized peers.
To reduce stress and improve your performance at work, make it a priority to get out with your friends at least once or twice a week.
7. Watch a Stand Up Comedy Show
It’s been said that “laughter is the best medicine” and according to numerous studies, there’s more truth to that saying than most people realize.
Regular laughter provides a host of benefits from decreased stress and anxiety to improved blood flow to a stronger immune system.
So the next time you’re feeling stressed at work, take 15-minutes and watch clips from Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, or Daniel Schloss (my personal favorite).
8. Remember: Everything Is Going to Be Ok
Finally, and most importantly, realize that everything is going to be ok.
Your brain, despite its magnificence, did not evolve to make you happy. It evolved to keep you alive. And it has yet to catch up with the fact that, in the modern world, we are in less danger than ever before.
The worst-case scenario is rarely as bad as we imagine it to be and even the grandest failures are rarely fatal.
Things might not work out exactly the way you want them to. But failure is rarely as fatal as we imagine it to be.
That upcoming deadline isn’t a matter of life and death. Losing that client doesn’t mean you’re two steps away from homelessness. You aren’t going to starve because your recent launch was a flop.
Everything is going to be ok.
So take a deep breath and relax.
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