Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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!

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization 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

    Trending in Featured

    1 Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed 2 12 Rules for Self-Management 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

    Advertising

    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

    Advertising

    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

    Advertising

    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

    Advertising

    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next