Adding Some Stress Might Increase Productivity

If I took away all of the stress associated with getting a project done, would you do a better job?

Not necessarily.

It’s commonly believed that workplace stress inhibits us from doing our best work. But according to research, some pressure may actually be a positive force.  Different tasks may require different levels of stress.

For example, have you ever noticed that you’d done a better job on an exam or in giving a speech when you are a bit excited or nervous?  This link between arousal and performance is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law.  It states that complex or unfamiliar tasks require lower levels of arousal to facilitate concentration while more difficult tasks require a higher level of arousal to motivate yourself.  Too much, or too little, on the wrong task will cause the opposite reaction to what level you need.

Put another way, you reach your peak level of performance with an intermediate level of stress or arousal. Too little or too much arousal results in poorer performance.

Back in 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham created this model, which looks like an inverted U

Source: Wikepedia

The left side of the curve represents low arousal or stress. The right side represents high arousal. And at the center is a medium level of arousal.

The vertical line on the left side goes from poor performance (at the bottom) to peak performance (at the top).

The optimal state of arousal and performance come together in the middle of the curve.

So, when you are working on something with no stress, boredom can set in. There’s nothing to motivate you.

With a bit of stress, your brain and body get engaged. You feel more alert. The rush keeps you focused. You do better work.

Too much stress will result in the “fight or flight” response, and you lose focus.  You won’t do your best work.

Because everyone is different, there is no single method for measuring the right stress level for you. But if you develop the right skills, you are more likely to be able to manage the level of stress that will keep you at the center point of the graph. But, any thought that it’s good to eliminate all stress has been proven wrong.

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