Work under pressure
Here's a thought to ponder. Is it better to work under pressure or not? You know, pressure as in deadlines, quality, never-happy (and forever-alone) client, hungry children waiting for their daddy (me) to come home with a salary, etc? Does stress help me and my work, or is it damaging to both?
|Under pressure, photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/seanbuchandpt/
The Good...Personally, this is not an easy question. I don't like pressure, but more often than not the work I do becomes better thanks to it. Just don't tell my boss*. There are several benefits of pressure:
- Easier to decide what is unimportant. We all have a lot of tasks on our plate, but when pressure builds up we manage to decide quickly what tasks to leave out for now. This works automatically for the really unimportant stuff — we simply forget about it.
- Improved motivation to complete the task. Oh the joy of starting new projects, where are you after the 80% of cool stuff is already done in the 20% of time, and now you need to spend 80% more time to get the routine stuff done? Having a deadline or other kind of pressure really helps in such cases.
- Stress-training. Like a gym workout, your need to push yourself a little further to be able to go even further tomorrow. I already shared some thoughts on this in “Getting past the Aha! point”, though from a somewhat different perspective. But if you accept pressure as inevitable, getting some of it today will help you manage it better tomorrow. Just remember to not overdo it.
- “High efficiency” mode. This is the mode that forces you to be on a continuous look out to do things faster, cleaner. This is a result of the above two points, but on a tactical (not strategical) scale. No more complex and overly-beautiful solutions, no more “I'll develop a new OS to solve this simple task in all its possible incarnations and permutations”. You just want to get it all done.
Now, there are risks involved, which almost mirror the above advantages (as it happens so often):
|Tunnel vision, photo by http://www.flickr.com/people/adactio/
- Tunnel vision. Really “important” tasks may get delayed by currently “urgent” tasks. Actually, that's a thought of its own — the ability to decide that some urgent tasks are just decoys is a very important skill. Unfortunately, stress quite often reduces this skill to nil.
- Burnout. Stress can be bad for you. Really? Yes. Long stretches of “highly-motivated” state can lead to a forced restoration period, aka “the burnout”. It is not always bad either, but it may be undesirable if you have more tasks to complet.
- Too many corners cut. And on the tactical level, moving at the speed of light can mean that you produce work of lower quality, and that can come back and haunt you later, in endless support / rework / refactoring and so on. We've all been there, and none of us want to go back. Don't let the necessary pressure of today create more of unnecessary pressure for tomorrow.
One self-observation — I tend to argue that pressure is bad for some kinds of tasks, the type that require high and lots of thought. Yet that may just be my bias — ability to push everything else aside can help those tasks too. Helps them a lot, in fact. But it could hurt them too, for the above reasons.
...And the QuestionSo, what do you think, is it better or not? And in cases where pressure is missing, should we add it artificially, to improve our work? Set yourself a deadline, make a promise to your friends etc? At the cost of destroying our life and/or sanity? :)
In my case, there seems to almost always be enough pressure, so there's no immediate urgency to look for more. Yet, since I don't like stress, thinking about it is positive terms actually helps. Yes, it makes working harder, but it also makes my work better.
* — though I suspect he already knows this. And that helps, even though I don't like to admit it.