Working Better by Working Less

With the grant deadline just hours away, I could feel the stress taking over. My shoulders and neck were tense, my mind was racing, and my heart felt like it would beat itself right out of my body. When I checked my heart rate it was an astounding 180!

I hadn’t run a marathon. I’d just been sitting at the computer all day: finalizing equipment quotes, fixing the latest version of the agency’s CV, pulling all the bits together across my collaborators’ submissions, looking up last minute references.

So with just a few hours before the grant deadline, what did I do? I stopped working.

Although I may have looked calm and collected to the outside world, my body knew better, and told me it was time for a break. I happened to have a Muse handy for a research project we’re doing, and I popped it on to take 10 minutes in a Calm relaxation session.

Muse is a portable, wireless electroencephalography system created by InteraXon, that uses your brainwaves to control apps on your phone or tablet. The first app InteraXon released is called Calm; it’s essentially a high-tech modern biofeedback system that aims to teach people to calm their minds and reach a state of mindfulness. It might sound new age, but there is real and old science behind it, and I thought why not give it a try?

After 10 minutes away from my grant, working with the Muse, my heart rate was back to normal baseline, my mind stopped wandering, and I could focus better. I got the grant done with time to spare, and it ended up being a much better grant because I had stopped working on it for a while.

Sometimes, not working is the best way to get your work done.

Stress is a normal part of our lives, and we all need to recognize that and develop strategies to deal with it. The most productive and successful people I know set time aside from work, so that they can release their stress in the ways that make the most sense for them, and so they can have balance in their lives.

For some folks, it’s meditation or yoga; for others a long walk, a run, a bike ride or a swim can help; still others make sure to schedule a regular game of pick-up basketball, squash, or tennis. Curling up with a good (non-work) book, trying out a new recipe, or hanging out with your kids or your friends’ kids at a little league game all help separate you from the stresses of your everyday work. Taking a little break will help you focus better so you can work more effectively once you’re back at it. But if you feel like your stress is overwhelming, and you can’t control it, see your local health care provider as soon as possible.

Stress is just one area of mental health and wellness we need to worry about (no pun intended). But controlling stress is key to keeping other conditions under control. Check out our Mental Health and Well Being module for more tips on how to build your resilience and mental well-being, diminish stress, and live a balanced life. And check out some these free relaxation resources.

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