Why We Create Better Under Pressure (And How To Use It)
Why do we work better under pressure? More importantly - can we put ourselves in this hyper-effective state WITHOUT coming close to disaster?
A few years ago I had to prepare a major 4 hours lesson, including some exercises and animated examples. I was very busy at the time, with multiple projects on my hands, and I kept pushing it off. Finally I found myself at the very morning of the lesson, with only a couple of hours to go – and I had nothing prepared.
Two hours is not a lot, but I had to do what I could. I wrote and sketched and even animated like some crazy creative whirlwind. Two hours later, I had one of the best lessons I ever made; better by far than lessons I’ve worked on for days.
I’ve heard similar stories from many creatives. Somehow, we seem to be at our best when there isn’t enough time. Why is that? Why do we work better under pressure? And most importantly, can we put ourselves in this hyper-effective state WITHOUT coming close to disaster?
Why pressure works
Let’s begin with the why. Here are 3 good explanations for last moment success:
- We simulate confidence. Pressure puts us in an energetic “can-do” (or maybe “must-do”) state of mind. We don’t think too much – we act on our most basic instincts. We don’t second guess our choices or try to see where we went wrong; in fact, we deliberately glance over minor imperfections. If you think about it, this is actually very similar to the state of mind created by confidence – only here it’s created through pressure instead.
- We see the big picture. Working fast gives us the ability to have full mental overview of what we’re doing. When a piece of work takes 2 days to accomplish, it’s easy to get lost in details and forget what you were trying to say. When it takes 2 hours, the problem solves itself. (Read more about the 2 hours rule here.)
- We’re focused, but not immersed. Pressure gives us tunnel vision. Everything else is eliminated, no distractions or stray thoughts, only the task at hand is important. It’s a very controlled and aware kind of focus – very different from the hazy immersed state in which we lose sense of time and self. In this state of practical focus, we become hyper-efficient creativity machines capable of seeing and capturing only what’s really important about the work.
What to do about it
Obviously we don’t want to be waiting for the very last moment every time we want to do something. A smarter solution would be to somehow simulate these pressure conditions without actually being in trouble. Here are 3 useful techniques for doing just that.
- Working in passes + the 2 hours rule. Defining a clear pass and making it less than 2 hours long, is a great way to stimulate the “2 hours left till deadline” conditions. I wrote about these two important techniques here:
The 2 hours rule
Working in passes
- Schedule work near appointments (and vice versa). I use this simple trick all the time. To really simulate the deadline pressure, I pair up important passes with appointments that can’t be easily shifted. For example – I might deliberately schedule a medical appointment for 11am, and schedule one of my more difficult passes to be done earlier that morning. For me, this creates a state of mind almost completely identical to a real last moment situation, even if my actual deadline is weeks away.
- Practice your capturing techniques. Capturing your ideas quickly and expressively is the fundamental skill that makes all this possible. The better, faster and more confident you are at capturing, the better you’ll perform under pressure (real or simulated). Go to the purple CAPTURE tab to read more about this all-important skill. For a comprehensive, in depth and very practical set of capturing techniques, check out my online course Go*Capture.