6 Ways to Harness Stress for Greater Productivity

We know it all too well — that nagging feeling that scratches at the back of our minds. That thing that makes us tired, at times overwhelmed, and even emotionally or physically sick.


Because stress is such a universally experienced negative stimulant, it gets a really bad rap. 

However, there are actually two types of stress called distress and eustress. And the latter can be used to your benefit to fuel your productivity. 

In the article to come, we share short interviews from three successful entrepreneurs about their experiences with eustress. 

Then, we detail exactly what steps you can take to harness your stress for better time management, prioritization and mindset practices. 

Entrepreneur 1 – Katie W. is a Founder of a sustainable nutrition company based in Berlin

Entrepreneur 2 – Maggie Perotin is CEO and Founder of Stairway to Leadership, a coaching and empowerment business designed to elevate female entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur 3 – Erin Barber is Chief Correspondent and Founder of Calipso Communication, a creative consulting agency


Stairway to Leadership: What was a stressful situation you recently faced at work?

Katie W.: For me, stress is usually not just one event or instance.  It’s more of a jenga tower that’s usually triggered by disrespect from male colleagues.  I’ll show up with my tower of blocks tidy and stacked, and instances of disrespect nudge a block here, take one out there.  And in the end, the tower gets weakened. Sometimes, male counterparts choose to use discriminatory language which causes me a great deal of stress, so a block gets pushed out of my jenga tower, so to speak.

Maggie P.: COVID restrictions and school closures added stress to my life, which included work. Having kids home all day and needing to help them with the online school was something that probably not many parents were prepared to do.

Erin B.: I have to say I get stressed pretty easily. The stress I’m currently facing is the looming possibility of falling short of my financial KPI for June 2021. Sometimes I overcompensate that stress by throwing myself harder into my work which, of course, increases my stress levels. 

Stairway to Leadership: How did you navigate that stress?

Katie W.: I simply left the environment that was causing me stress. I started to build my own jenga aka a side project.  I channeled my passion for learning about the world and the people within it through various side projects.  In the end, I think these projects aim to rehumanize both myself and the people around me.  Also honestly, I went for lots of long walks and took time to daydream of a better world. I reminded myself of how much I have, and came back standing stronger in myself.

Maggie P.: We created new routines for us as a family. Established ground rules with the kids, incorporated time outside that fit everyone’s schedule. I personally have added a 10 minute meditation to my morning routine to help me ground myself better each day. 

Erin B.: I decided to organize and strategize for a 30 day sprint. I decided to reach out to 5 organizations every day for the next 30 days to try and reach my goals. Working in short but intense blocks of time somehow alleviates my stress. When I can see structure in the madness, then I feel less stressed. 

Stairway to Leadership: How do you think your stress management tactics could benefit other female entrepreneurs?

Katie W.: I’ve found that when I navigate my stress best, it’s when I take that frustration and try to reroute it as finding my joy in other ways. Channeling energy in some other ways outside of work can help you to find new ways of seeing the world.  Side projects can be a really enlivening outlet that can help any female entrepreneur foster creativity and get the juices flowing.

Maggie P.: Meditation, being active and fresh air are beneficial for everyone. You help your mind get calm and grounded. We oxygenate it well and give it time to think. There is no better foundation you can give to your mind. This way you’re empowering yourself to be able to remain calm in those uncertain times and create great solutions in our business. 

Erin B.: Having a plan and investing the time to strategize before tackling a huge project can help to keep stress at bay. Think about it this way–if you’re trying to get to a new destination for the first time, you need a navigation tool or map to show you the way. That’s what having a plan can do for your business. Strategizing can greatly reduce your stress because it relieves some mental work and pressure. 

So what do these three female entrepreneurs have in common when it comes to their stress ordeals? They’ve learned how to leverage their stress for the betterment, not detriment of their businesses. These are the steps they implement for better productivity. And you can do the same starting today!

1. Name and Reframe

First and foremost, give your stress a name. 

Maybe today your stress is called “I’m so afraid I’m not going to meet this deadline,” or “I’m so mad I didn’t close that client.”

Once your stress has a name, you can find the actual and specific source of the negativity. 

Then it’s time to reframe it from a rational mindset perspective. 

So “I’m so afraid I’m not going to meet this deadline” can be reframed with all sorts of positive action words. For example, we can call it “I am going to meet this deadline because my co-workers and clients are excited to see the final product.”

And “I’m so mad I didn’t close that client” can be relabeled as “The sale didn’t go the way I expected but now I know what does and doesn’t work in some negotiations.”

With this simple exercise, the stress becomes a lot less scary and much more actionable. 

2. Schedule a Meeting With Your Feelings

Yes, pencil your feelings into your daily calendar. 

Schedule a quick check-in with yourself to take the temperature of your mental and emotional capacity each day. 

One of the key ways to harness stress is to acknowledge it and have a conversation with it.

In fact, Harvard Business Review has conducted numerous studies that indicate the best way to shift, deflect, or harness stress is to first address it. 

Great ways to incorporate a daily stress check into your morning routine or lunch break are ten minutes of meditation, journaling, daydreaming, or stretching.

3. Prioritize Based on Outcomes and Importance

Once you have named your stress and addressed it in your daily stress check in, it’s time to tackle it head on. 

Make a to-do list of open tasks that, once completed, will get your stress levels down. 

Break each task into three smaller sub-tasks. 

Once you have all of these tasks jotted down, order them from most critical to least critical.

Commit to completing at least one sub-task every day. 

By the time you know it, your to-do list will be complete. 

Sure, it may be slow-going in the beginning, but over time, these small steps of diligence will yield huge returns while lowering your stress levels.

4. Use a 1:1 Yes/No Ratio

The Yes/No ratio is precisely where eustress, or ‘good stress’ comes into play. 

This is an exercise designed to apply a bit of pressure in order to kick your brain into its most productive gear. 

With the 1:1 or Yes/No ratio, you simply choose your stress. 

Think about all of the things that are stressing you out. Now say ‘yes’ to stressing out about half of them and ‘no’ to the other half. 

For example if you’re stressed because you need to write a business plan, start a new social media channel, find a new babysitter and hire a virtual assistant, you say ‘yes’ to two of these stressors and ‘no’ to the other two. 

In short, you’re going to focus your attention this week only on writing your business plan and finding a babysitter. You’ll say ‘yes’ to two other stressors next week. 

The Yes/No ratio puts you in the driver’s seat of your stress and it’s a proven way to harness ‘good stress’ because it gives you a higher sense of control. 

5. Delegate and Automate

We live in a digital age where lots of work can be automated by programs. 

Additionally, our modern age is marked by connection, cooperation and community. 

Harnessing both of these are a great way to keep your stress positive instead of overwhelming or all-consuming. 

Use calendar tools to see your whole month or quarter at a glance. We’re partial to Google Calendar, Taskworld and Hubspot. 

Invest in a  budget planning tool or spreadsheet. You’ll find plenty on Etsy. And, of course, when you sign up for Stairway to Leadership’s coaching course, you’ll have access to budgeting and financial planning tools. 

And if you’re able to, hire a virtual assistant or ask someone in your community for help with administrative tasks. 

6. Create Your Very Own “Dreamland”

Last but not least, the key to harnessing stress is understanding why the stress is worth it in the first place. 

Where is your stress taking you? What is your end goal?

Dreaming and manifesting are crucial to leaning in to eustress and succeeding in business. 

We recommend creating a dream board on the weekend or in your free time. Find images of what your future dream life looks like and paste them up on a board that you can look at every day.

Also, take the time to manifest. This means closing your eyes and thanking yourself for all of the work you’re investing into your future. It also means thanking the universe and all higher energy and powers for the blessings and rewards that are coming your way.

When you truly believe that your future will be bright, you trick your brain into positivity and cut the negative thoughts. You completely restructure your mindset to be aligned with your future vision while lowering stress levels at the same time.

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