I Work Best Under Pressure – Really?

If you have a big project due in two weeks, do you think about it for 1 ½ weeks, and then rush to finish it on time? How’s that working for you? Are you approaching most tasks with anxiety, fear, too much thought, and then racing to the finish line? We tell others, as well as ourselves, “I work well under pressure”? Maybe this is another way of saying we procrastinate or are afraid. This is pressure we often create for ourselves.

Remember, busy looks important. Malcolm Gladwell cites research that indicates we believe ourselves to be more important than any other previous generation. Looking important seems to matter, even if we are spinning our wheels in the sand, or chasing bugs instead of lions.

“If we don’t have time to do it right the first time, how can we find time to do it again 2-3 more times?”  ~ John Wooden

If we ‘work well under pressure’ on the small unimportant tasks, we may do the same with important tasks. We end up pushing everything into urgency. So we become 80% urgent and 20% escape or collapse. This is a recipe for disaster.

“The formula for success and a nervous breakdown are the same.” ~ Jim Loehr

We delay planning a kids party, a vacation, doing our taxes, or completing expense reports until near the due date and now an important event is  suddenly highly urgent. And since it’s urgent, we become frantic to complete the task and we rush, concerned we are missing key elements, squeezing in on other critical events, and winding up unhappy with our shoddy work. Mark Twain said, and Brian Tracy made famous the phrase, “Eat a Frog every morning.” This means starting your day with your most awful task when you are freshest; then everything you do the rest of the day, will seem better if you start your day by eating a frog.  

How do we eat an elephant? One bite at a time! John Grisham was a lawyer in Chicago before launching his very successful writing career. He decided to dedicate 15 minutes every morning and evening on his train ride to and from the city each day, to writing. He wrote the bestseller “A Time to Kill” in just 10 months. A new career was born. He chunked the big book project into small manageable bites.

By chunking our important projects into smaller determined bites, we have a chance to get our life back. We need to dedicate small parts of every day leading up to an important deadline to actually doing work on that event. Here are 7 ways to effectively minimize the pressure:

1. Visualize the result you want  

Is it the important sale, the buy-in from your boss, or getting that new job?

  • What does “good look like” for your key project?
  • Who will be most appreciative of your effort and what will they say?
  • What specific accolade or compliment do you want for your excellent outcome?
  • How will having this success improve other aspects of your life?
  • Why am I really excited or determined to do a great job on this task?

2. Compliment yourself first

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, talks often of the powerful results that can be accomplished with positive thought. Try writing down the 3 things you are grateful for and appreciate about yourself in each daily activity – no matter how small – to build positive daily momentum.

3. Be specific

What can I do daily?

  • Look at your end-goal and work backwards to pinpoint the very specific activities needed to achieve that goal
  • Maybe it is as simple as a single phone call, developing one slide, or analyzing one resource but physically doing something toward your goal i.e. something you can do each day, and it might only take 30 minutes

4. Choose your location

Where are you when you are most creative?

  • Maybe you get great ideas when you are sleeping – rest and recovery are vital to eliminate the toxins that build up in our system, and these toxins prevent our best thinking. If you do get great ideas after hour rest, keep a notepad bedside.
  • Maybe it’s when you are showering or running – movement can lead to better thinking. The key is to move and really think about your project in small pieces.
  • Creative thinking is rarely achieved while playing on your iphone, ipad, or sitting at your computer.

5. Disconnect to connect

Project success is doing less, and thinking clearly – while we are less distracted. I know many families who are disconnecting from technology during dinner and other times, to allow their brains to explore new thought and connect to the present moment.  The key to focusing on the big project, is stopping the distractions getting in our way. Find a quiet place, take a walk, or write in a notepad – the act of writing will create some pause and develop better ideas as you write.

6. Stop complaining

Complaining takes time, and this is time we don’t have when we are under pressure to complete key tasks! John Maxwell said, “Worry is the misuse of imagination” and complaining may be an outgrowth of our fears. I have heard people refer to fear as paralyzing, and if our project deadline is scary, the pressure mounts. Take inventory of the things you are grateful for and the gift you are in another person’s life and perhaps that will bring clarity and allow you to refocus.  

If the task is too big, you only have only 2 options:  

  1. Quit
  2. Get Help ~ John Maxwell

7. Find a colleague

You may have people in your midst who are more capable of achieving results and enjoying parts of the project with which you are struggling. Ask for their advice. They can proofread your work, or ask you questions you may get from your boss or spouse. A trusted confidante, coach, or mentor can help you get work done, or check your progress. Even when we exercise, our best results are when we workout with a friend or personal trainer. Find the same kind of support for your business project, and pressure fades.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. ~ Socrates


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