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How to Use Pressure to Get More Done Without Freaking Out

How to Use Pressure to Get More Done Without Freaking Out

    In school, all the other kids who hadn’t started their assignments would freak out the night before it was due. Not me. Not because I’d planned it out weeks in advance and gotten things done the smart way. Heck no! I was just as unprepared as everybody else.

    I had tried the “smart way” once. It was stupid, because I’d already refined my last-minute technique and was getting good grades, but I decided that I would be “responsible” and plan and research several weeks in advance and write the piece in responsible little chunks.

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    It sucked. Really sucked. It seemed my teacher agreed, because my grade sucked even more. Fortunately I managed to follow that assignment up with a last-minuter that was apparently so good it retroactively improved the assignment before it and gave me a better grade; little did the teacher know I wrote that assignment pretty drunk, and neither did my dad—which is a moot point now because he reads Lifehack.

    Instead of letting the pressure to pull a last-minute assignment out of the hat get to me, I used it. Pressure is a fuel and if you embrace it rather than letting it get you emotional, you can put things off to the last minute and still do a good job, harnessing the energy that pressure builds up.

    The way I embraced pressure as a motivator is probably what drove me to begin a Journalism degree I never finished (I suppose there just wasn’t enough pressure!) and, more importantly, what piqued my curiosity about how the mind works and how to get the best results from this piece of advanced technology that comes with no manual. In other words, leaving my high school assignments to the last minute is directly responsible for the fact that I write for a productivity blog today!

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    When we’re working on something without a sense of urgency and pressure, we’re usually stopping to check email or chat with the guy in the next cubicle in the process. When pressure kicks in, so does a great deal of focus and a degree of tunnel-vision that prevents us from getting distracted by unimportant things. I find that if I don’t feel like I’m intellectually alert enough to complete a task earlier in the day, by the time the pressure is on this problem doesn’t exist anymore and I’ve suddenly got the capacity to take it on.

    So what’s the key to the second part of that headline—how to use pressure to get more done without freaking out?

    It’s really simple: trust your mind.

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    Trust your mind to cope with the pressure and know that you’ll deliver what is needed, given the right amount of time (Parkinson’s Law at work).

    Trust pressure to kick in at the right time; if it kicks in too late, there’s a good chance you’ve mentally underestimated the time the task will take to complete. Dissect the work in advance so you have an accurate estimate of the time it’ll take to complete and the requisite sense of pressure will kick in when it needs to kick in.

    Most objections to this way of working come up when people claim it won’t work for projects that take more than a couple of hours to complete. That’s not true—if you know how long the job will take and when it needs to be done by, pressure can kick in days or weeks in advance. That said, I only ever utilize pressure to help me produce when the task takes less than two or three hours.

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    This isn’t always the best way to work. I don’t use this technique for 80% of the work that I do. But it comes in handy for the other 20% that I need extra motivation for—things I really don’t feel like doing, such as writing an article on a topic I hate, or doing the dishes (invite some guests over and see how this works!).

    Today, of course, grades don’t motivate me to complete tasks; it’s the knowledge that if I don’t finish my articles by the deadline I don’t get paid, or the fact that if I don’t take the garbage out now the wife will hide the remote from me.

    Disclaimer: this way of working is pretty irresponsible. Irresponsible is not to say unproductive, it’s just to say that if other people are relying on you, you should think twice. If it gets results for you, and you are able to produce good work with “just enough” time, use it. But don’t rely on it for something really important unless you’re confident it works for you. Also, know what kind of tasks this applies to—writing an article might suit, but planning a marketing campaign probably doesn’t!

    More by this author

    The Importance of Scheduling Downtime How to Make Decisions Under Pressure 11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage 19 Free GTD Apps for Windows, Mac & Linux

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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