Productivity Window of Tolerance
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How to Work in Your Window of Greatest Productivity

Have you ever, in a state of high productivity, thought, “I’m in my groove?” There’s proven science behind this desired state of “flow”, and I pull a lot from it when coaching my clients. But, today, I’m zooming out to talk broadly about the larger framework of personal productivity using a concept coined by psychologist Daniel Siegel, referred to as the “Window of Tolerance.” You might think of it as the magical zone for your nervous system. There’s a lot we can manipulate and effectively manage to capitalize upon this covetable zone. If you’re looking to optimize your productive potential, read on.

Window of Tolerance Explained

In a nutshell, our window of tolerance is the emotional state where we can readily access our executive functioning toolset. It’s a state of flow where we feel grounded, present, motivated to learn, and driven to produce. This state of mind is where we can interact most effectively and compassionately with the people around us. It’s where we are best prepared to deal with unforeseen challenges, tight deadlines, interruptions, and setbacks. Ergo, our window of tolerance is where we can be most productive.

Windows of All Types

It’s important to note that no two individual windows of tolerance are the same. Some of us are blessed with (or have expanded to) rather wide windows of tolerance. These types of people seamlessly roll (or appear to seamlessly roll) with the punches. But we could be fooled by appearances because some people with narrow windows of tolerance have simply learned to master their emotional regulation. The only sign they may offer that hints at their inherent narrowness could be the way they handle themselves day-to-day, which, on the surface, might simply look like diligent time management or a solid commitment to work-life balance.

But it’s true, some of us, perhaps given our history or personality or inherited psychological makeup, have quite narrow windows of tolerance. Perhaps you know a colleague or spouse who is easily flustered or becomes otherwise emotional relatively frequently. Maybe this is you sometimes. Maybe this is you often. Not a problem; this we can work with. The size of the window isn’t material. What is material is knowing what is needed to get oneself back inside their window.

The Secret to Getting in Your Groove

Capitalizing on your window of tolerance requires two things. Number one is cultivating self-awareness around your unique nervous system. Second, is identifying the things that bring you back into your window of tolerance if and when you find yourself outside of it. With these two pieces in place, you can show up and output optimally, no matter the circumstances around you.

Garnering the Self-Awareness

Having the ability to spot when you’re outside your window of tolerance will enable you to take action. How might you know when you’re outside your window? We’re all unique, but here are a few signs you might look for:

  • You’re short with your coworkers/spouse/clients
  • You’re spinning your wheels on a task you normally can knock out with little effort and/or less time
  • You’re making careless mistakes
  • You’re feeling fully unmotivated
  • A challenge feels hopeless
  • You’re mindlessly eating a large bag of Doritos

Take some time to reflect on the behaviors and thoughts that recur when you’re outside your productive zone. Consider the way you feel and what thoughts percolate in your mind when you’re acting out of step with your personal values. Get to know yourself better so you can fully frame up the borders of your window of tolerance.

Identifying What Brings You Back in Your Window

These clear borders will allow you to know when you’re outside your window. Next up is knowing what to do to get back inside. What brings you back to your window of tolerance is going to be unique to you. Again, self-reflection will best serve you here, as will some trial and error. People often find some of the common techniques below helpful:

  • Honoring the basics, i.e., getting enough sleep, eating healthfully and at regular intervals, and engaging in regular exercise
  • Getting up and going for a brief walk to clear your head
  • Asking for some quiet time
  • Petting a dog/cat
  • Scheduling tasks and responsibilities in line with your unique energy cycle, i.e. cognition-heavy tasks early in the day if you’re a morning person
  • Engaging in self-care
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Taking a break and/or a vacation
  • Walking away from a project or person or circumstance that simply isn’t serving your well-being.

It’s Your Groove for the Taking

We aren’t at the mercy of lady luck. We can do more than just hope for a good day when we sit down at our desks each morning. Through greater self-awareness, we can manufacture the productive magic that is our groove. I encourage you to get familiar with your unique window of tolerance. Appreciate its frame for the structural integrity it provides and capture the full view it provides.

Sara Genrich | Productivity Consultant

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Expert, and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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