How to Work Under Pressure: 10 Tips for Improving Performance
It is not the ship in the water but the water in the ship that sinks it.
The amount of stress we experience when there are deadlines and performance expectations that are difficult to meet is not the same for everyone.
Some people perform better under pressure while the performance of others declines.
Learning how to work under pressure begins with understanding how stress affects performance.
Performance Requires an Optimal Level of Stress and Arousal
Stress by itself is not a bad thing or something to be avoided.
In fact, a certain amount of stress is needed for our mind and body to grow stronger.
Just like most things in life, there is an optimal amount of stress needed to produce positive adaptations and too much or too little is not ideal.
Similarly, there is an optimal level of arousal for peak performance.
Too much anxiety or excitement can impair performance, just as much as too little excitement.
Optimal Performance Occurs at Intermediate Levels of Drive
In psychology, this is what is known as the Yerkes-Dodson law.
In fact, it is the only concept in psychology that is considered a “law.”
If you have an interest in optimizing performance, then it is critical to understand how this law works.
The Yerkes-Dodson law illustrates the relationship between performance and drive.
The law states that optimal levels of performance occur at intermediate levels of drive or arousal.
So, what does this mean?
As you can see from the illustration below, if we have too little or too much drive, our performance is worse than if we have just the right amount.
Manage Arousal While Working Under Pressure
If a person tends to be under aroused (low drive) then external pressure tends to improve their performance.
In fact, as external stress increases, their performance typically increases because outside pressures are pushing their arousal levels up.
On the other hand, for individuals whose arousal levels are already optimal, an increase in external pressure tends to lead to poorer performance.
And for individuals who normally have high drive or arousal levels, an increase in external pressure not only results in poorer performance but under extreme circumstances may negatively affect their health.
For these reasons, it is important to know yourself (and your team members), to know what types of approaches would work best to optimize performance, when working under pressure.
10 Tips to Increase Performance Under Pressure
No matter what level of arousal or drive you naturally have, here are a few key steps you can take to improve performance under pressure:
- Organize the work into parts and focus on the most important tasks first. If those require other steps to be completed first, go to the tasks that can be addressed immediately.
- Get out of your head. Thinking about how stressed you feel does not help in getting the work done. Focus on the task at hand and get as fully absorbed as possible.
- Do not procrastinate or overthink the task. Get into the work right away. Engaging in the task can itself be stress relieving.
- Share tasks associated with the project with others and communicate.
Here are some things that work to manage anxiety when working under pressure:
- Stand up and make yourself as big as possible for 30 seconds. Raise your hand up high and take deep breaths.
- Introduce humor where possible, especially when working as part of a team.
- Remind yourself to stay positive. Everything can be fixed and learning sometimes occurs where we least expect it.
- Keep your focus on the big picture not the annoyances of the moment.
- Manage stress by focusing on your breathing. Breathe deeply from the abdomen and allow your stomach to protrude as you breathe in and collapse back as you breathe out.
Regular exercise, healthy diet and sleeping seven to eight hours on a regular basis provides the foundation for managing stress and anxiety in all circumstances.
Advice from an Expert
A useful way of illustrating the relationship between optimal performance, stress levels (or drive) and emotional states was offered by clinical psychologist and trauma expert Dr. Allison Agliata which is presented below:
She also offered two important observations related to performance under pressure:
- When the pressure for task completion is greatest, stress management activities typically go by the wayside, just when they are most needed!
- Prioritizing our physical health not only helps us to manage stress, but to think clearly, stay focused, and make better decisions since we are rested, well-fueled, and filled with endorphins.
Learn How to Work Under Pressure with CEOE
If you find yourself struggling to work under pressure or if you want to learn how to help your team to be more productive, efficient, and motivated, contact our team at CEO Effectiveness.
Individual and group coaching, along with team workshops, are available to help you rise to your highest level of success.