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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!

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    Joel Falconer

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

    Mastering 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

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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