Top Ten Tips to Work and Perform Your Best Under Pressure

Unfortunately working under pressure almost on a daily or fairly frequent basis has now become a fact of life.  Gone are the days when you could extend your work over the greater part of a day.  Bosses and clients now want everything immediately, or as we say, ‘they wanted it yesterday’.

We are all inevitably faced with mammoth or seemingly impossible tasks throughout our lives.  How we handle them or even how we react to them can affect our ability and effectiveness in dealing with them.

The one immediate impulse that we as humans have when faced with a potentially stressful or highly challenging situation is to procrastinate.  As far as possible we unconsciously try to put off starting on the job.  The reverse is actually easier for you.  The sooner you get started on it, the sooner you will eventually complete it and be able to breathe a sigh of relief.  Even those supposedly relaxed moments you are savoring before actually starting it will be full of misgivings and inevitable tension.  As the people at brand NikeTM say, ‘just do it’.

A distinguishing characteristic of successful people – whether as students, as professionals or in their personal lives – is the ability to function under pressure. Most people do a double take, freeze up, stress themselves out or ruin everything from the very thought of the pressures being faced or the deadlines being met.

There are several recommended steps to take to cope with such a situation.

  •  Try to stay calm and focused.
  • Make sure you are clear about the situation and the details.
  • Write down what needs to be done.
  • If something is not clear, get it clarified.
  • Break down each major task into smaller manageable tasks.
  • Set mini-targets.
  • Visualise success and re-charge your motivation.
  • Don’t try to be a hero. Where necessary, ask for assistance.
  • Be realistic – have a margin for errors.
  • Foresee such problems and plan ahead – have a contingency plan.

 1. Try to stay calm

When you are under pressure such as a very close deadline to complete a given task, most of us tend to panic.  In such a frame of mind, it is hard to think clearly.

In order to function effectively, it is necessary to try and stay calm and focused.  Take a deep breath and close your eyes for a few moments.  Let the turmoil within you settle down.  Count to ten.  Get some fresh air.  Have a drink of water.

2. Know what is required

Be as clear as possible about exactly what is required from you, why it is needed, for whom it is required and how it needs to be done or presented.  This will make it easier to sort out how and where to begin.

3. Write down what needs to be done.

Help yourself to think and act clearly. Take a blank piece of paper and write down

  • what you need to do
  • what preparations you may need to make e.g. materials required, funds required, people you may need information or assistance from, etc.
  • approximately how long each step above may take – give yourself an extra twenty to thirty minutes for each step to account for unexpected developments such as the unavailability or lack of response from people you are trying to reach.

4. Clarification

 If anything about the task is not clear, immediately get it clarified.  You do not want to work hard preparing something that is not even needed.  Before you begin your preparations, or the actual work itself, do not be afraid to ask details that may seem obvious, silly or stupid.  It is much safer than making a major mistake afterwards that could put you in a much more embarrassing position.

5. Break down each major task

 It helps immensely to break down each major task into smaller manageable tasks. For example, if you have been tasked with preparing a detailed breakdown of all accounts payable of your organization for the last six months, break this down.  First list all the accounts i.e. customers.  Calculate the beginning date for six months prior. Then list all those who have paid during the last six months.  Then sort those who still owe money to the company or organization. Once you start working on the smaller tasks, your state of anxiety will automatically diminish, as you will be working actively to get it done.

6. Set mini-targets

Once you have broken down the larger task into smaller tasks, set mini-targets based on the deadline that has been given to you for the whole task. Continuing with the accounts payable example in the previous heading, let us say you have three days to submit the breakdown of accounts payable for the last six months.  Companies often have tight deadlines of this nature for challenging jobs. Keeping a suitable margin, let us set targets for each of the smaller jobs that it has been broken into:

List all the customer accounts                                                                5 to 6 hours

(This may vary depending on the number of accounts and any interruptions during the process)

 Calculate the beginning date for six months prior                                    Half an hour

(This may also vary depending on the number of accounts and any interruptions during the process)

 Listing all those who have paid in the last six months                  2 to 3 hours

(This may also vary depending on the number of accounts and any interruptions during the process)

Listing all those who still owe money during the last six months   2 to 3 hours

(This again may vary depending on the number of accounts and any interruptions during the process)

7. Visualise success

It is important while working on the task to visualize a successful outcome.  This will renew your energies and prevent you from giving up on the work at hand.

 8. Get Assistance

 No one can do everything by himself.  Don’t try to be a hero. Rather, work smart. Where necessary, ask others within your department for assistance.  You may have even have colleagues who may recently have completed a similar task or who may be exceptionally good at calculations or in the use of spreadsheet software.

 9. Keep a margin for errors

 Unexpected things happen. You can be interrupted by important calls or visitors.  You could be given another small task to complete.  Have a margin built into your estimate for completion of the main job at hand.

 10. Foresee problems and plan ahead

Try to foresee possible hurdles that could impede your progress.  For example, old records may have been kept in hard to reach places or under piles of dusty folders and boxes.  Certain records may be unclear or unreadable.  Think of alternative sources for that information, for example, invoices sent, remittance slips on file, company bank statements, etc.  If necessary, call the customer to confirm. Once all these measures have been taken and all precautions are in place, the task should be comparatively easier to perform. You have done your research, you have found your sources of information, you have people who can help you, you have realistic targets to attain.

Bear in mind that the completion of such a task will bolster your confidence and encourage you to accept similar assignments in the future.  The experience will make you stronger. The above example was only for illustrative purposes.  These steps can apply in all sorts of situations, such as school projects, home DIY, family emergencies.  The main thing to remember is not to panic and to keep your wits about you.

At the end of the day, it is said (tongue in cheek) that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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