Pressure comes from within and so must be mastered from within.
Let us admit it. Nobody performs well under pressure. A lot of us think we do, but we don’t — or at least, we don’t perform as well as we could perform.
And in their book, in their book, “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most,” Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry prove the truth very effectively. The difference between regular people and ultra-successful people is not that the latter group thrives under pressure. It’s that they’re better able to mitigate its negative effects.
That said, pressure is not always bad.
For instance, I’ve been in a time crunch the last few days on a big project. Last Friday was the absolute deadline. If my team and I do not make our deadline, we’ll let an important customer down and there is a financial consequence.
With this hanging over our heads, we made more progress in the last couple of days than we’ve made in the entire last month, and we met the deadline in style.
That’s the power of good pressure. It makes things happen.
A pressure situation forces you to think through the steps you need to achieve it. Each step will require a certain amount of time — and that will better inform how long it will take you to finish the project. Visualizing all the steps involved (and finishing it) can help motivate you to start tackling each small step.
And when there isn’t enough time to do everything, the discussion automatically focuses on “what’s the most important thing to do?” It stands to reason that in your priority list are a number of items that really aren’t that important. Perhaps they just fluff in between the facts. Racing against time brings this to the surface really quickly.
But there is a golden rule to be followed. Either you control the pressure or the pressure controls you. The former is an epitome of progress and the latter is a recipe for disaster.
And here are some of the ways to stay productive and get results under pressure.
Make Everybody Accountable.
Remember that childhood game, “Hot Potato”?
You would take a ball, beanbag or other item and pretend it’s a hot potato. As soon as you got it you’d pass it on to the next person. Then at the end of the music, a timer or just a random announcement from the game master — whoever is holding the hot potato loses.
The trick is to create an accountable team culture according to the “hot potato” philosophy.
For example, If I knew I was responsible for something, it was in my best interests to get it done on time and pass the “potato” to the next person. This is an intrinsic part of the work culture, but more importantly, I respected the fact that other people’s work couldn’t be completed without my contribution. The success of the project depended on my “hot potato.” If I encountered a challenge, I let my team know before the deadline.
Remember If there’s no accountability, there’s no reason to actually stick to the timelines. Make everybody feel the heat if stakes are high.
Create Mini Deadlines.
Teresa Amabile, a Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School studied 177 people working for some of the top companies in the United States. She asked them to keep diary entries for their work days and note when they thought that they were under different types of pressure and how creative they were.
She found that although tight deadlines did hinder creativity, so did mild deadlines.
Employees working in tight deadlines simply weren’t making an impact, and therefore they didn’t see enough meaning in the work to think creatively. They faced crises, ad-hoc tasks, and the proverbial fire drills that kept them busy but no closer to finishing their core project.
Mild deadlines were the detriment of creative thinking as well, as they did not give enough creative motivation to the team to bring fire to the task at hand. Work simply became routine and mundane.
Now the interesting part.
Workers who were under a low to moderate deadline — the middle option between “tight” and “mild” — showed the most creativity across each organization. The stress of a due date may not be exciting, but a time-sensitive environment can give your work the focus it deserves and help you fend off the distractions that can derail an inspired train of thought.
“If people and companies feel that they have a real deadline, they understand it, they buy into it,” Amabile wrote in a Forbes article. “They understand the importance of what they’re doing, and the importance of doing it fast — and if they’re protected … so they can focus, they’re much more likely to be creative
So far so good.
But how to create a moderate deadline? You have already been given a deadline and you cannot possibly change it.
You cannot change the single looming deadline. But what you can do it is to break it into smaller moderate “mini-deadlines”. Using mini-deadlines as part of a bigger project allow you to compartmentalize your work and see progress as you finish each task. These smaller deadlines take the stress off having to complete overwhelming amounts of work and instead let you focus on the tasks at hand.
And every mini-deadline accomplished by you gives you that added ammunition of motivation to surge ahead to the final goal.
Make it Personal.
Everyone thinks differently. You know this firsthand because there’s been more than one meeting where you and your co-worker suggested different ways to solve a problem. If you tune into your skills, experiences, and preferences, you’ll come up with a better system than if you just set deadlines the same way as everyone else.
Productivity expert Carson Tate suggests people fall into one of four categories: prioritizers, planners, arrangers, and visualizers. The ideal system for each one fits with the name. Prioritizers and planners like to work based on how much time each part of a task will take, arrangers, focus on how they’re feeling, and visualizers are motivated by considering the big picture.
So the idea is to set the rules and allow people to follow their own path in meeting the deadline. It can be focusing on the task in its entirety, piece-by-piece, or in relation to the rest of the work. Let everyone decide their own way of motivating themselves towards completing the task.
And reinforce the completed work with rewards. A simple way to make it personal is to reward the team. If the team has completed the first phase of the project ahead of time, reward them with a night out, a nice dinner or a gift. If necessary, pencil these in under each deadline. A variation of this would be to abstain from an addiction — such as candy, beer or cigarettes — until the deadline is met, with no exceptions.
The key is to make a terrible situation as enjoyable as possible. Once that happens, pressure situations become more like a walk in the park. It is all in the mind really!
And Lastly, Limit the damage if a deadline is missed.
Despite all your hard work and forethought, deadlines may still be missed. And when that happens, keep calm and make every effort to limit the damage.
Your best bet is to give your boss and/or co-workers notice before you miss the deadline. It’s much better to get ahead of the situation and let your boss know that you are unable to make the deadline due to factors outside of your control than to wait until after the deadline has passed to address the issue.
“What is your new, real estimated time of delivery? Share this information as soon as you realize you won’t be able to make your goal,” says Ronald Kaufman, author of “Anatomy of Success.” “Then as concisely and as objectively as possible, be prepared to communicate why the deadline was or will be missed.
And next time plan better. Your track record matters. Your reputation is at stake here.
And as a rule of thumb, always under-promise and over-deliver. That way, if you fall short you may still be in the clear. Think clearly and carefully and take into account all that you have on your plate before picking up a date. Don’t be a habitual deadline offender. Keep improving. Keep trying.
As John Madden has rightly said.
“Don’t ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure.”