October 21, 2022

Staying Effective Under Pressure

Let’s face it: no matter your role in an organization or team, at some point in your career you will find yourself under pressure. Whether it’s a tight deadline or an unexpected project that feels never-ending, when you’re faced with a situation that feels out of your control, your stress level rises. But here’s the secret: with some thoughtful strategies, you can get back in the driver’s seat and continue to produce great results even in the most pressure-filled situations. 

First, let’s look at some common behaviors that we employ when we’re overwhelmed with work. 

Multitasking is a Misnomer

Too often, when our to-do list looks endless, we find ourselves multitasking. Yet research shows that you can’t actually multitask; what you’re actually doing is task-switching. And this behavior produces the opposite effect of what you’re aiming for, as it takes MORE time and takes your attention away from the task at hand. In fact, studies have shown that multitasking results in more errors and in aggregate can reduce your productivity by as much as 40%. It takes 10 minutes to refocus on your original tasks and – here’s a shocking statistic – continuous multitasking during cognitive tasks can lower the IQ by 15 points

Here’s what to do instead.

Do One Thing at a Time

Turns out the old adage is true. Research shows that people can attend to only one cognitive task at a time. And that if you focused on one item or worked in only one platform at a time, you will actually gain back an average of 2.1 hours in your day! 

Employ Time Blocking

Outside of any scheduled meetings, take back control of your calendar by blocking out your own work windows. You can decide if you want to schedule these as ‘free’ or ‘busy’ (depending on the transparency of your corporate calendar and the level of focus needed for the activity), but aim to spend a certain amount of time focused on just one activity or deliverable. 

Remove distractions

To help you focus during these time blocks, make it a habit to turn off any non-critical notifications (such as email) that can be distracting, put your phone on “do-not-disturb”, or try a newer feature offered in many apps referred to as “Batch Processing” that delivers notifications at a specified cadence.

Give Yourself a Break

Don’t forget to schedule some breathing room! Your brain (and body!) need to step away from your scheduled focus time to maintain your energy level. Time-management experts tout a 90-20 or 60-10 rule; namely, maintain focus during the larger time block, but pair it with a shorter duration of ‘recovery’ where you go for a walk, get a bite to eat, play with your pet…namely, anything that ISN’T work. After all, blank space is the antithesis of multitasking.

Let Subject Lines Help You Focus

A simple yet effective trick for prioritizing email is to enable “priority inbox” or enlist subject line taxonomy to signify importance. Starting the email subject with denotations like “FYI” or “Low Priority” (meaning: read when you have time), “Timely” or “Urgent” (use sparingly, but when needed) or signifying what action needs to be taken (i.e., “For John Review and Editing”) helps you skim through your inbox when you’re in your blocked Email time. You can suggest to your team members and even managers to join you in this strategy, and align on what your team’s taxonomy could be, then agree to try it out together!

All of these strategies can be used independently, but have also been found to work well together. With a bit of focus and switching up your usual work habits, you’ll hopefully find yourself more productive, less stressed, and undaunted by any high-pressure situation.

Bravely coaches are also a great source of information on how to maintain equilibrium during high-stress situations. Schedule a session today!

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