Stanford psychologist shares a surprising trick that will help you be more productive at work

How to be more productive

The secret to overcoming psychological fatigue at work could simply be to stay calm. In fact, there's scientific proof that keeping your composure reaps big benefits in the long run.

That's according to Emma Seppälä, a Stanford psychologist and science director of Stanford's Center For Compassion and Altruism Research, in her book "The Happiness Track."

Though we normally associate being tired with physical exhaustion from either lack of sleep, an intense workout or a long day of physical labor, Seppälä says that psychological fatigue can wear you out just as much. Plus, she says, it can lead to professional burnout.

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"Calm can even seem counterproductive," Seppälä writes, adding that it "brings up images of passivity, laziness, lethargy or ineptitude."

But that's not the case, she writes. "Instead, being calm allows you to get your work done while spending less energy than you otherwise would," according to Seppälä.

Seppälä explains that there are three psychological factors that make you feel drained from working: high-intensity emotions, self-control and high-intensity negative thoughts.

You might feel high-intensity emotions, such as excitement and elation, come into play during moments when you feel anxious or excited to finish a project on deadline or every time you get a new email notification, Seppälä writes. These emotions activate your brain's sympathetic system, which is responsible for your fight-or-flight response.

Seppälä also notes that you mismanage your energy at work every day by exercising self-control, whether if by pushing yourself to get through a hard day or controlling your urge to tell your boss how you really feel.

"You are basically wrestling with two impulses at once: you are focusing on you goal and what you want to accomplish, but at the same time you are hyper-aware of competing desires, thoughts and impulses," Seppälä writes.

The third psychological factor that adds to your overall exhaustion is high-intensity negative thoughts, which includes worrying and simply believing you're tired.

Calmness, on the other hand, inherently requires less energy: Your heart doesn't beat faster than it should, your breathing remains regular and your body is at ease as a result, Seppälä notes. Her research has found that by cultivating this sense of calm, you will feel less stress, have a clearer mind and have more focus to get your work done.

Here are a few science-backed ways Seppälä says you can restore your mental energy and continue to remain calm:

  1. Do something that makes you feel positive
  2. Turn what you're doing into something you want to be doing
  3. Remember the big picture
  4. Practice gratitude
  5. Detach from work when you're not working

"You get the same amount of work done, but you remain balanced and enjoy the process," Seppälä writes. "The best part, of course, is that because you are not as tired, your energy levels remain high. As a result, you are happier and more successful."

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