Productivity Lie #6: You work best under pressure

Working well under pressure is one thing. Doing this constantly comes at a high price to your productivity so it’s worth exploring the alternatives.


I’ve known for a very long time that I’m not a ‘last minute racer.’ Whilst I work extremely well under pressure, (I am dedicated to achieving what I commit to, must have a clearly defined deadline and am proud when described as ‘fully accountable’), in actual fact, working when the pressure is on gets my cheeks burning and my heart racing a little too fast for comfort.

Some of my clients are adamant that working under this kind of pressure, is when they work optimally. When the ‘paw-paw’ is about to hit the fan (to put it nicely), and there is no other option, it’s certainly one way to ensure you get things done; however the questions we should be exploring are:

Is there a better, more efficient way?
What is the cost to your personal health?
Is there a drawback for your team?
Does this type of task management lead to success self-sabotage?
What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #6: You work best when the pressure is on

Humour me for a moment as I unpack this lie. You see, I totally understand that we have different body rhythms; that some people need more (or less) sleep than others, that accountability and self-discipline are difficult practices to put into play. I totally and utterly get it that some people do deliver their best work when committing to a tight deadline and that adrenalin is a positive hormone.

However, what I see far too often, is people using ‘I work well under pressure’ as an excuse for blatant procrastination, tardiness and lack of accountability. I see teams cracking, relationships being severed, health being compromised and failure to climb the corporate ladder as the dismal consequences.

Working well under pressure is one thing; anyone with a good conscience will pull out the stops for a piece of work to be delivered on time, especially if it is of high value. Doing this constantly though, as your day-to-day norm is quite another. It comes at a high price, (too high a price in most instances), so it’s worth exploring the alternatives. Stop and question for a moment how you can do things differently i.e. deliver sublime results, but without the compromise. That’s the ‘cherry’ we’re going after.

The three things you can do right now:

Simulate that sense of urgency

Studies show that we are most productive just before going on leave. Simply put, when you ‘crunch the time container’ you are left with no choice but to motor your way through your to-do list, marking things as done. So, if you are doing your best work closer to the deadline but it’s coming at a price, break your bigger projects into mini projects and/or commit to tighter deadlines. While you are still chasing the deadline, it will not come at the cost of your credibility, your team’s well-being and possibly even your sanity. All good things when we’re talking about working more efficiently in more accountable ways.

Work with a blueprint

Now cast your mind back to the time of your youth. Remember the school timetable that got you to remember what subject was happening when? That timetable was your accountability buddy; it provided structure to your day so you could plan accordingly and (hopefully more often than not) arrive at school with your work done and dusted without having to incur penalties. A weekly blueprint is the grown-up version of the school timetable and while it doesn’t work for all of my clients, it certainly works for most. You see, when we create structure for our day/week/month/year we take away the guesswork of “What should I be doing now?” This means you can plan your schedule to accommodate your lengthy to-do list, say ‘no’ more regularly when you don’t have capacity (or inclination) and minimise the number of times you have to race for the finish line. Think of your blueprint as a map for your day where you create the sensation of a whole lot of mini deadlines i.e. blocks of time you’ve put aside for particular pieces of work. Chase the time block you’ve allocated and you won’t be compromising on your ‘I work best under pressure’ mantra.

Team up with a detail dodger

Here’s where life gets really fun. You see, detail dodgers, whilst still needing the knowledge of a deadline, work best way in advance of it. Their mantra is “get in – get it – get out” which means that if you were brave enough to buddy up with a creative, big picture thinker and doer, you might well need to cut down on your ‘waiting for the pressure before taking massive action’. This will result in a more pleasant team, who are happy in the knowledge that they can rely on you wholly to pull them forward when the pressure is on, but also rest assured that you can deliver sublime quality work even well in advance of the task deadline.

So I guess this lie “working best when the pressure is on” is not entirely a lie but more so a shift of perspective. If you truly do love the chase, if pressure is what drives you to producing your absolute work-place gold, then simply create more ‘pressure is on’ situations. Sure, it will require a little bit of self trickery but seriously, if you can get over that teeny tiny hurdle, you will be doing so much more of the good stuff, sans self-sabotage. Win.

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