Careers

5 research-backed strategies for becoming more productive and less stressed

Taking time to re-think your daily routines can help you feel less stressed, career experts say.
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Taking time to re-think your daily routines can help you feel less stressed, career experts say.

Anxiety about falling behind at work is why many Americans aren't taking their vacation days and are working longer hours.

But increased productivity doesn't have to mean increased stress. In his recently-published book, "Solve For Happy," Google X executive Mo Gawdat explains how people can rewire their thinking to become more successful.

"You tell your brain what to do, not the other way around," he writes. "You just need to take charge and act like the boss."

Here are five strategies you can use to become more successful, without feeling added pressure:

1. Adopt a motivational routine

Psychological research suggests one simple trick can help you tackle challenging goals, like exercising more or going to bed earlier.

Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, surveyed 800 people trying to exercise more over a period of several weeks. He found that consistently practicing a motivating routine before starting a difficult task increases your chances of success.

Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and psychologist, says money isn't the only thing that motivates workers.
Photo: Mary R.
Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and psychologist, says money isn't the only thing that motivates workers.

For example, if you want to accomplish your goal of exercising more, which is proven to reduce stress, adopt a pre-workout routine where you encourage yourself.

2. Write your goals down daily

Billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, says keeping lists of his day-to-day tasks as well as his big dreams makes him more productive and organized.

"I make lists — lots of them," he writes on his blog. His lists range from people to call during the day to new ventures he wants to start. Psychologists have found that writing things down on paper helps people remember things better than if they keep lists digitally.

Richard Branson
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Richard Branson

Branson says you should start writing down your tasks in a way that you find effective, whether it's doodles, bullet point lists or smartphone notes — though he strongly prefers notebooks.

"Write down every single idea you have," he writes, "no matter how big or small."

3. Re-think your diet

The old adage "You are what you eat" may be true. If you want to feel more energized and less sluggish, doctors suggest you take more time to think about what you eat.

Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast foods high in sugar, simple carbohydrates or unhealthy fats, for example, could be increasing your health risks and making you feel mentally dull, a growing body of research shows.

Instead, try whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables that can make you feel more energized.

4. Focus more on what you can change

Carol Dweck, a researcher from Stanford University, has spent the majority of her career studying why and how people are able to accomplish their goals. She's found that how we approach obstacles can make or break how successful we are in overcoming them.

Instead of adhering to a "fixed mindset" in which we believe we cannot change what happens to us, spend more time nurturing a "growth mindset" in which you actively believe in your own success.

5. Invest in a key relationship at work

According to Sally Boyle, the head of human capital management for Goldman Sachs, too many professionals overlook the importance of developing one key relationship.

To get ahead, young professionals not only need a mentor, the executive writes on the bank's blog. They need a sponsor, a person who not only provides career advice, but who is in your company's chain of command and can advocate for you.

"Having role models, access to sponsors," she writes, "networking opportunities and manager support are all key factors to help progress their careers."

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Check out Tony Robbins' advice for getting serious about your goals