How to Find the Elusive 'Sweet Spot' of High Productivity and Low Stress

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Complaining about being busy has become a badge of honor in this age of compulsive multitasking. But doing too many things at the same time has been shown to hurt productivity and mental health. In her new book "The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work," UC Berkeley sociologist Christine Carter outlines how adopting micro-habits and strategically saying "no" can decrease stress and increase efficiency.

Interview Highlights: Tips for Living in the 'Sweet Spot'

1. Foster Your Social Side

"What we know from hundreds of years of research in sociology and psychology is that that ease, health, longevity, well-being overall, is best predicted by our social ties and our connections to other people.Our friendships and our positive relationships create incredible ease for us in that they relieve stress. They tell our nervous system that everything is okay, and that we can be creative and innovative. And they create strength for us. We we get most of our power really from learning from other people, from other people's support, their love."

2. Take Breaks

"We know that our brain can function at a higher level when you honor its natural rhythms, when you allow yourself to play, when you allow yourself to exercise, to do things that we don't typically put into the busy-ness categories. ... For every about 50 minutes of work that I do, I take 10 or 15 minutes of a brea. I might just go outside and throw the ball for my dog. It might look idle, but I know that my unconscious mind is chewing on a problem and that this is the best way to reduce the feelings of tension and stress."


Christine Carter, senior fellow at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center and author of the new book "The Sweet Spot"


3. Map Out Mini-Habits into a Larger Routine

I have mapped out my whole morning routine in five minute increments and I make those decisions one time about what I'm going to do. That's the first step of getting into any sort of habit or routine where you can do it on autopilot -- is to really decide once what you're going to do. I'm not making decisions usually about whether or not I'm going to make coffee before or after I shower, when I'm going to do my exercise or when I'm going to meditate or even really what I'm going to wear. All of that happens without using up any sort of decision making power.

4. Focus on Functional Emotions Rather Than Gratification

"People conflate happiness and pleasure, or happiness and gratification, and that's not what I'm talking about at all. I think of happiness or a life that is happy as one that's full of a lot of different types of positive emotions -- gratitude or inspiration or awe or compassion or love. And those positive emotions are incredibly functional.

Even if you're only interested in being more productive and more successful at work, know that those positive emotions that will lead to what we think of as a happy life or to greater meaning and fulfillment, will also make you more productive. ... when we are feeling happy, when we feel inspired, or a sense of elevation, or hope or any other positive emotion, our nervous system changes in a measurable way that can make us more organized. We think more clearly, we can plan for the future, we can control our emotions better. We remember social information better, we can control our impulses, we make better decisions, all these things that we need to be productive and successful happen more easily when we're primed with a positive emotion."

5. Find Your Groove. Then Lose it Again.

"This is about learning how to get to your sweet spot, how to find your groove, because you're going to lose it again. Otherwise you never grow. If you're not, if you're not losing your sweet spot, if you're not losing that groove, you're not necessarily growing. And so it's all about finding it, losing it, finding it again, losing it, and each time you end up in a slightly higher place."

6. Say No More Often

You have to be well practiced at saying no. You have to have go to ways to say no and feel comfortable doing it.