We all work better under pressure. Having a finish line in sight (or even looming over you) provides a sense of urgency and immediacy. But in most businesses, there are always peaks and troughs; a rhythm that changes over the year.
It might feel challenging when you’re flat out with work, but it’s never nice to be clock-watching in the quiet periods, either (and it’s easy for teams to ease off).
However, being able to tune out the distractions and focus on the next challenge is a hugely valuable skill.
As the maxim in the hospitality industry goes, “if there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean”. Re-evaluating down-time as an opportunity to get ahead – deadline passed, work submitted, client happy, feet halfway up – is the best way to give yourself a competitive edge.
Use the time for reasoned planning
According to the Harvard Business Review, the best way to stay productive without pressure is to be “more deliberate about planning” when you’ve got the time on your hands.
Being more meticulous about planning, particularly with extra time on your hands, is hugely beneficial. With no pressure, you can break your to do list down into very clear steps, giving yourself a clear itinerary of must-complete tasks and the steps required to get from start to finish.
Kahneman argues that a collision of external factors often results in an over-reliance on quick and intuitive decision-making, which can have negative impacts. This is because intuitive decision-making is often based on incomplete information, and our brains are naturally wired to make causal links and spot patterns – which means finding patterns even where there are none.
The aim of thinking slowly is to counteract some of these tendencies, giving our brains more time to process information and allowing more time and clarity to spot gaps in information and interrogate leaps of logic.
Taking the time to think – more slowly, more deeply, more analytically and more creatively – could help you to avoid common pitfalls at work or come up with new solutions and ideas.
Use technology to hack your productivity
There is an ever-growing list of apps and software available for phones and computers to help drive increased productivity – make use of them!
Reflecting on the way you interact with technology can also help you to find room for increased productivity. Emails are an obvious one to start with and can provide an almost endless stream of incoming notifications, which can be particularly distracting.
Instead of keeping your emails open all day long, set yourself a couple of windows throughout the day during which you focus only on emails, and keep the window shut outside of this. Doing so gives you the opportunity to dedicate focus to one task at a time – research has consistently shown the failings behind a multi-tasking approach.
You don’t have to rely on technology, either. Old-fashioned tricks such as the Pomodoro technique can help too. The Pomodoro technique relies on a timer – set yourself a 25minute period and focus on one thing only. Take a five-minute break at the end, then start again, and repeat until you’re finished.
Less is more
Finally, knowing how to say no to work is a strength. Sometimes, things will come at you that you frankly shouldn’t be dealing with. Don’t be afraid to push back on ad-hoc work that distracts from your bigger, critical objectives. Saying yes to everything puts you at risk of micro-managing if you have a team around you, or scope-creep if you’re providing work for clients.
Remind yourself what’s core to your business success, and make sure those big picture elements get the attention they need.