Effective under pressure

There is more pressure than ever in business as expectations increase and as the pace of work increases. Therefore our ability to work effectively under pressure becomes more critical.

How well do you juggle the pressure of today’s relentless workload? Do clients give you less and less time to do more? Do they give you smaller budgets and expect better results? Do you start each day with more on your to-do list than the day before, more unanswered emails and feeling more puzzled how you will manage it all? Do you need to read more as your mind drowns in a tsunami of information and data? Do you feel a need to check your smart phone every few minutes?

For many, our typical reaction to the above is to work harder, work longer hours and run faster from one task to another – often achieving less. How much of the pressure is from your clients, how much is from your boss and how much is self-inflicted? Do you have clients and colleagues for whom everything is last minute and at rush?

My fear is that rushing has become the new norm. That rushing becomes habitual and yet when we rush we are less likely to do our best work. Instead we do work which is ‘ok’. Our clients and colleagues make out that the rushed deadline is the most important goal. Yet once the work is delivered the deadline and rush is quickly forgotten and what now becomes critical to the client is the Result. Clients quickly forget the tight deadline they originally gave us.

The other dilemma is that when we rush we are more likely to make mistakes. Mistakes are costly to us in several ways. Firstly to put them right – and at our cost and now at even greater speed as the deadline looms ever closer. Secondly the client, or our boss, is now questioning our ability. Thirdly clients and bosses have an uncanny knack of remembering our mistakes long after we’ve put them right (and often quickly forgetting our successes!)

Here are 10 tips to help you be more effective under pressure.

1.    Get better. Be the best at what you do. Don’t be average at many things. Be outstanding at a few things. Specialise. Continuous learning is important so read one business book each month.

2.    Have an overall purpose and vision. “A vision without action is an hallucination” Focus on your top priorities first. Have clear goals and avoid being distracted by the minutiae of business. The more senior we are the more vital it is to take time to stop, think and plan. Set goals and develop a plan with milestones to achieve them. Also plan for the unexpected. Plan for the following week. Every Friday afternoon plan what needs to be done and achieved in the following week. Focus on those which are most profitable or potentially most profitable. Decide what is urgent and what is important. Don’t be ruled by the urgent at the expense of the important. Find time to slow down. Find at least 1 hour each day, 2-3 hours each week, 1 day each month to really think and plan. Slow down to go faster. Work ON the business, not just IN the business.

3.    Get away from your desk to really think creatively and innovatively. This is harder to do when we are under time pressure. Typically our best ideas come spontaneously when we least expect them. Know when you personally think best – it may be in the shower, walking or with a glass of your favourite tipple! There is no single right way but know what’s your right way. Almost certainly it won’t be in front of the computer screen.

4.    Push back. Be brave and push back on ridiculous deadlines and insufficient budgets. Will you always get more budget or more time – of course not. But you will get more much of the time. Think carefully before you automatically say ‘yes’ to every demand. Half of your problems are probably caused by you saying yes too easily in the past. Be prepared to say “I need more time….” Otherwise the danger is that we set precedents and a fast turnaround is always expected in the future. I appreciate there are times when certain tasks are urgent and must be done quickly but surely not all tasks?

5.    Find a buddy. Solving problems on your own can be over-whelming and we may be more emotionally caught up in our own issue. Chat through problems and ambitions with your buddy. By explaining your challenge to them forces you to clarify your thinking and articulate the issue. That alone is priceless. They will often give you a fresh perspective. Certainly don’t sit there worrying on your own, that will achieve nothing.

6.    Do it, delegate it, or dump it. Don’t procrastinate. Be decisive. Delegation is a critical skill for senior managers. Dumping on colleagues is not delegating. Great delegators brief clearly and then check for understanding by asking questions. Delegation is a skill enabling you to handle more whilst also developing the skills of your direct reports.

7.    Anticipate what is likely to happen. Consider the various options that are likely and how you will respond. When we are under pressure we often don’t think through the implications of our options and decisions. Take control of your future. If you don’t then who else will? See failure as part of your learning. See it as feedback. Rehearse how you will handle an important conversation. Too often we avoid contentious or difficult conversations hoping the issue will go away – problems rarely go away, they typically get worse. Decide the outcome you want from the conversation. It is too easy for the conversation to simply be an opportunity to ‘get things off your chest’ rather than actually resolve the issue.

8.    Systematise. Find ways to be more effective on tasks which are repeated. How can you find systems and methods of working to reduce the time involved and improve the quality of output? What are the tasks you do repeatedly? How can you speed up the task and improve the quality of the output? Group similar tasks together so you get quicker at tackling the topic. Manage emails effectively. Your first task each day is to plan what needs to be done, not checking emails.

9.    See clients as investments. Focus on the most important, those which provide the most lucrative and profitable revenue. Beware of seeing all clients as equal. Rank your clients into gold, silver, bronze by value and/or potential value. Yes big name clients are impressive but beware of having big name clients that are unprofitable.

10.  Understand what your clients and colleagues really value. Focus on how you can deliver more value. Too often we focus on efficiency rather than effectiveness. To me effectiveness is far more important. Emails are ‘efficient’ from the point of view of speed and time however a face to face meeting is likely to be far more productive and effective despite taking longer than an email to write. Face to face meetings cannot be beaten whilst at the same time avoid unnecessary meetings.

Smarter thinking will enable you to achieve more success. How will you be more effective under pressure?

Published in The Treasurer

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