I don’t know how I do it, but when I have deadline pressure to deliver something, I have the ability to hyper focus and produce something exceptional. A Sophia
You know them, those people who can pull off a deliverable exquisitely, even when they’ve procrastinated until there is barely enough time left to get it done.
Pressure work is hard no matter what, but especially so in our Cram it all in Year existence combined with WFH (w/ kids or no kids). Getting work done in a distracting environment (“yoohoo, hello” from the cake in the fridge), let alone delivering the work that needs to be exceptional, is tough. (Remember, every piece of work doesn’t need to be outstanding. Read here if you’re still striving for perfection, or even exceptional in all your work. And here if you’re holding yourself to that standard as a mom or dad.)
Traditionally, a pressure-cooker environment is not all that conducive to great work. Sort of hard to create a masterpiece when it feels like there’s not enough time, or undistracted time. We wanted to know: what do people who achieve laser-like focus and deliver extraordinary performances do differently? What we learned was that there’s a way to purposefully get in that zone – a zone that psychologists call “Clutch State.” Here’s how to raise your game when you’re feeling the heat, and needing to deliver:
What To Do (Bites)
Talk to yourself, in a good way
The single most important predictor of high-level performance under pressure is the perception of being in control of the situation. You can’t operate on auto-pilot here. The people with big degrees call it “conscious processing.” Consciously practice Positive Self Talk: remind yourself of the energy, commitment, and knowhow that you’re bringing to this particular party. You’re in control, and you’re getting this thing DONE.
We encourage you not to dismiss this bite and jump to the next one. We’ll repeat: Positive Self Talk is studied, is real and can help. Think about the number of situations you’ve been in that have been imperfect to getting brainy work done. Knowing that you have and can get there is essential.
Set fixed goals
The type of goal you set REALLY matters in achieving the right psychological state. Clutch States are most likely to happen when you’re focused on a very specific fixed (versus open) goal. It’s got to be specific (e.g. presentation completed in final form), measurable (e.g. delivered to your boss) and time-bound (e.g. by tomorrow at 9:00 am). These kinds of goals help focus attention, increase intensity and sustain effort.
This we know is consistent with how you should always deconstruct work. However, in these times, when our think time is precious, it’s not a step to skip in an effort to just plow through.
Then, make the steps micro
Once you’ve figured out your fixed goal, break it down into a series of manageable steps. This helps things feel eminently doable: where it can be overwhelming to think in terms of “are you KIDDING me? Finished by Friday?” it’s much more feasible to give yourself micro-steps, like taking 30 minutes to draft a storyline, then finishing 5 slides in the next hour.
Positive Self Talk is a good skill to practice in general, but especially when you’re living the CIAIY and WFH. It’s been proven to shape attitudes about yourself and help boost performance. At work: “I crushed it before; I can do it again.” “I absolutely earned this opportunity”. And at home, consciously flip every negative, replacing every “I can’t” with “I can,” and every “they won’t” with “they will!”
Don’t forget: to bring on Clutch State, you want to make sure you’re focused on a fixed goal, as opposed to a more flexible, open-ended goal, like innovating a new idea – THOSE goals go hand-in-hand with a “Flow State.”
It’s good practice while you’re in Clutch State mode to do a check that you’re on track with the goal you set and the problem you’re solving for. When initiatives are broken down into pieces, and there are distractions between windows of focused or clutch work, e.g. kids come pulling at your leg, you can take a pivot in focus. In an attempt to not waste time, check that what you’re doing is aligned with the overarching goal of the initiative and that the piece you’re working on remains aligned with that target outcome.