10 Tips for Performing Under Pressure
Today's work world is fast-paced and deadline-driven. Many companies have not yet fully recovered from the economic downturn and are still operating on tight budgets and lean staff levels. Employees across the board are managing large workloads and long hours. On top of that, many employees (such as myself) have rotten managers.
As a result, now more than ever, on-the-job success depends on your ability to show grace under fire. Here are 10 tips to help you become a peak performer when the pressure's on and you have an Idiot Boss:
1. Go with the flow.
Adaptability is an invaluable skill. If priorities change and your boss asks you to move from one project to another, embrace the new challenge and demonstrate your ability to learn on the fly. Remember: If you're always flexible, you'll never get bent out of shape.
However, what that can also mean is: If you have a boss who is disorganized and doesn’t even know how to manage so much as an ant farm, they will give a list of tasks as long as your arm and then tear you away to do other meaningless projects. Once you’ve gone along with them and allowed them to derail you, they will then wonder why you didn’t get the first list done and berate you for it. Sometimes you need to put your foot down – if you’re asked to do something that doesn’t make sense… speak up!
2. Seek clarity.
Don't be afraid of asking too many questions. If a hot assignment is dropped in your lap with little warning, it's to your advantage to clarify timelines, personal expectations and overall goals with your manager before starting work.
What will happen: Even if you have half a brain, a micromanaging moron will send you 88 emails explaining how to arrange the proper subject header of an email. Sometimes there is such a thing as TOO much “clarity”. Tell your bat-$#@%-crazy manager to “lead, follow, or get out of the way”.
3. Prioritize, then strategize.
Take a few moments to develop a game plan before diving headfirst into any project. By thinking tactically and constructing a road map on the front end, you can spot potential hurdles before they slow you down. A plan will also help you stay clear-headed throughout the process.
Regardless of how well you plan, an Idiot Boss will do their best (often without trying) to block your best efforts to get your job done. Then they will lecture you about how to manage your time better (in my case = working through lunch, staying late, bringing work home and working weekends).
4. Don't procrastinate.
Worrying about a project doesn't count as working on it. Rather than putting off your most pressing deadlines, hop to it. Getting these assignments out of the way first will lower your stress level and make your overall goals seem more manageable.
(See point #3)
5. Break it up.
Take short breaks to relieve crunch-time tension. Collect your thoughts by going for a walk, stretching or briefly engaging in watercooler chitchat. If you can't leave your workstation, close your eyes, take deep breaths and try to clear your head for a few moments.
If you work in my office there is most certainly no socializing allowed. You must be chained to your desk. It sounds like good advice just to take deep breaths, but sometimes the only thing that helps is getting fresh air. What’s even better is hanging your boss out of a 7th story window by their feet so that they too can join you in the fresh air. Now that’s teamwork!
6. Stay cool.
Even the most affable and well-mannered people can become flustered and temperamental when under stress. Don't contribute to the tense atmosphere. Although it's not always easy, take criticism with a grain of salt on hectic days. Think before speaking and don't let anyone else's poor attitude affect your own.
I have learned this one the hard way. Relax! If you know you’ve done the best job possible, then that is enough. If someone else doesn’t appreciate that (and if they never will), then it’s certainly best for you to move past it and let it go. Trust me on this one.
7. Ask for help.
Even with talent and a Herculean effort, some jobs simply can't be completed by one person. If you're doing everything possible to accomplish a task and still foresee a problem, ask for assistance. Identify duties that can be delegated and request backup from your supervisor. He or she would much rather divert resources to help you now than hear of a missed deadline later.
Not if you worked for Miss Manager!!! She has actually said how she resented having to help me on projects in the past – especially when I was down by 2 employees on my team (and therefore handling the workload of 3 people). I had to “step up to the plate”, but she didn’t. Hmmm.
8. Fix your gaze.
When operating on overdrive, it's easy to lose sight of big-picture goals and the fact that working hard now will help you achieve them. Keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is the vision of your gasoline-drenched Idiot Boss meeting a lit match.
9. Turn downtime into prep time.
After a high-intensity period passes, decompress by making note of the lessons you just learned. What factors, if any, caused you to fall off schedule? If leading a project team, how could you have communicated goals more effectively? Reflective thinking will help you streamline your pressure-handling processes and prepare you for the next big brush fire.
“Reflective” time may be when you realize that you’re going nowhere fast working for an idiot that’s making you sick and you need to get the hell outta Dodge!!! Downtime could be a great time to work on your resume.
10. Foster good office karma.
It's always a smart move to build rapport with co-workers. If a colleague is on deadline and has an inbox piled to the ceiling, offer to help if you can. By lending a hand, you'll likely make an ally who'll return the favor the next time you're in a pinch.
That is, unless you work in an office that does not foster a friendly environment… then you’re pretty much on your own.
To perform well when the heat is on and the stakes are high, you need focus, organization and steely resolve (as well as the absence of a bat-$#@%-crazy manager). Being optimistic and viewing challenges as opportunities for growth won't hurt either (but of course that can be beaten out of you). Use the tips highlighted above to not just survive but thrive the next time you find yourself under the gun.