Do You Work Well Under Pressure?

I recently learned something interesting about working under pressure. We all know people who say “I work well under pressure.” This could be at work or just doing things at home. I guess those people may also be called procrastinators because they will put off doing something until it’s crucial and then they complete the task in some record time.

I’ve noticed this about myself, too. I’m not generally a procrastinator but I do notice when I’m much more productive if I feel more pressure to get things done quickly and by a certain day/time.

What I learned is that this concept actually has a name – it’s part of Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law is a concept that says you will fill the time available to complete a task. So if you have a month to do something, you will take the entire month, even if in reality it should only take you a week. If you only have a couple of hours to do a task, then you will feel pressure to get it done in that couple of hours.

It seems Parkinson’s Law can work two ways:

One: You put off working on the task until it’s absolutely crucial that you work on it

So, instead of working on that task ALL day you may actually be procrastinating by looking through emails, working on other tasks, etc. Then, when you feel pressure that you’re running out of time, you begin to work on that task.

Two: You make the task more complex to fill the time you have available

This page has a good example of making a task more complex – it’s about planning a party. Let’s say you’re planning a work party that’s two weeks away. Planning the party is pretty simple and could take only a few hours with a team of people. Since there are two weeks to plan it though, the team keeps making it more complex. They may be adding more things like handmaking cards, creating slideshows, and other extra things that aren’t really necessary.

Another way of making a task more complex is to tweak it for too long. It may be that you are a perfectionist and you may be working on that task all day by tweaking it over and over again, even if it was actually finished hours ago.

Using Parkinson’s Law to your advantage

Knowing this concept may be a powerful tool for some people. If you know that you work better and more efficiently while under pressure, then use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage.

Work well under pressure - break up work into tasks

First, you will need to think about all the steps needed to complete a project. You will need to think about how much time each step and the project as a whole should take rather than how long you actually have to complete everything. Then, you can set your own deadlines throughout the days and weeks. It is helpful to set deadlines for each step rather than just for the project as a whole.

If you need to be accountable to somebody else rather than just yourself, then that may be another piece to figure out. One way to create accountability is to tell someone (a boss, a friend, etc) that you will have something done by a certain time/day. Then there will be external expectations of you.

I think Parkinson’s Law goes hand-in-hand with time blocking and the Pomodoro Technique. You can use all three to make yourself more productive every day. Time blocking can be used to set your own goals/deadlines for tasks and then the Pomodoro Technique is used to get through chunks of time in order to meet those goals.

Do you work well under pressure? Did you know about Parkinson’s Law already?