Do you work better under pressure?
A question I frequently ask during my courses: Who thinks s/he works better under pressure?
On average about eight in ten raises their hands. They work better when the pressure’s on. When there’s a deadline to meet.
That quotation needs to be out the door by the end of today! Finish that presentation by noon! This project has to be completed by the end of the month! The flight has to be booked by 11am!
And with that familiar cocktail of blood, sweat and tears you manage to pull ahead just before the finish line. Under pressure, anything goes. You’re happy. Your boss is happy. The customer is happy. Everyone’s happy!
Well, except that your body and mind don’t like the stress and adrenalin rollercoaster you’re putting it through.
Some people are even addicted to certain levels of adrenalin. In order to get their fix, they tend to loaf about until the pressure has mounted up sufficiently to get their behind in gear. It’s called ‘procrastination.’
But how is it possible that work gets done faster when there’s you’re working against the clock? Which ingredient does a deadline add that wasn’t there before?
It isn’t quality. Most of my students agree that if you manage to do something in half the normal time, part of the gain comes from concessions to quality. Attention to detail, careful consideration, quality control and exercising due caution: it all takes time and the benefits aren’t directly evident. So we skip it. For now.
Oh yes, most everyone agrees that, in the long term, skimming on the quality of work doesn’t work, but it can be difficult (and time consuming!) to make this readily apparent. So, yes, but not now…
So what does having a deadline add?
We think we’re well-versed multi-taskers, so we tend to want to keep more and more plates spinning. In reality, though, we’re not multi-tasking but task switching. And task switching is pretty expensive, both in time and energy. But we don’t like (or dare) to say no, keep all options open, and try, for better or for worse, to keep all the plates up in the air.
But if you’re trying to meet a deadline,you have to fix your attention on that one glass platter. Implicitly you allow yourself to drop some of the less important ones, as long as this one keeps spinning. In other words, you allow yourself to concentrate all of your attention, all of your mental horse power, on finishing that one task.
No distractions. No task switching. No wonder you’re faster!
The only question I have is: why do you do this only when you’re under pressure? Especially if you know it improves neither the quality of your work nor the quality of your life? Doesn’t that mean you’re being led by someone else’s priorities?