Have you always felt that you work better under pressure?  Has it been a successful tactic leaving things ‘til late on and then blitzing through them at the last minute?

Well, there is a kernel of truth to this and an orchard of self-deception.

It’s true that most of us do work more effectively under a bit of pressure.  The Pressure Performance curve is (broadly) an inverted U, and the adrenaline of a deadline or a clear purpose helps us to think more clearly and work more effectively.



However, with stress comes a side portion of Cortisol.  I’m simplifying the neuroscience a little here, but what this means is that too much pressure and our performance starts to dip and even fall of the edge of a cliff.  The funny thing is that we don’t always recognise this drop.


Working Effectively

Ah, but I always used to cram the night before and still did well in my exams I hear you say?  Yes, but what’s the goal here?  If it’s to stack short-term memory to pass a test then yes, the last minute approach can definitely work.  If it is to genuinely learn, then research shows conclusively that cramming does not create effective long-term memories.  So you got the job done, and maybe that’s all that mattered for that Biology Test, but as a way of investing your time wisely for your best long term gain, then cramming wasn’t effective at all.

Bringing the analogy back in to the world of work, sometimes you have to just get things over the line, in which case the cramming approach does do the job, but more often than not, we’d far rather do a decent job.  Plus leaving things until the last minute, we might miss out on input from others, or the resources we need might not be available.


Are you considering the efficiency of ALL of your time?

Further, how often to we get around to starting a task only to realise there’s far more to it than meets the eye?  Leaving it ‘til the last minute means that we have to compromise on exploring the detail and the nuance.

I’d also assert that looking at the task alone doesn’t capture the full equation on your time efficiency.  What about all the time spent procrastinating beforehand? Was that spent in the most efficient way possible?  Probably not.

So, I’d recommend two things.  Firstly, be really honest with yourself.  Is your current “leave it ‘til the last minute” policy about producing your best work, or is just about avoiding some hard yards right now?  Secondly, I’d recommend putting more thinking time up front in to what needs to be done (what resources are needed, who’s input in required?) If you’ve done this and been realistic about timescales, then you are probably already under significant time pressure and will have enough of dose of adrenaline pumping around your system to enhance your performance.


Might perfectionism leading to your procrastination?  Click here to explore this further

Click here to explore how to build more resilience