Myth-busting: You Do Your Best Work Under Pressure

Queen BowieI had an epiphany.

Last week I spoke with the owner of a growth company in a demanding and highly competitive industry. His was one of those businesses you don’t even know exists until you hear about it. And then you think – of course that kind of company exists (and when you had no idea this kind of company existed, it is particularly amazing when you learn that it can have 1,500 people on-premise working during its busiest times of the year).

But I digress (“I digress” would be a good name for this blog (as would “Parenthetically”)).

This business owner, let’s call him Joel (because that’s actually his name), and I spoke about a wide variety of things, including how people often say they do their best work under pressure.

downloadThat’s when the epiphany struck:

We all think we do good work, and we are always under pressure, ergo (ergot?), we all think we do good work under pressure.

But do we?


Even though we all feel we are above average, half of us are below average (it’s called Illusory Superiority, look it up). This is most famously demonstrated by how most people see themselves as being above-average drivers, even those from Indiana.

Illusory superiority applies to all aspects of our lives, even work. Some days may be better than others, but at some point, all of us will spend time on the wrong side of average.

So how can you improve your odds of being above average? I would argue that removing pressure – not inviting it – is the first step. Thankfully, because so much of pressure is self-made, this isn’t as hard as we think:

  • Say "no" to a false sense of urgency – don’t set a deadline of tomorrow when next week will do.
  • Stop looking at being under pressure as a virtue – bravery and loyalty are virtues, pressure is a state of being.
  • Don’t give yourself the leeway to procrastinate – pressure is not what brings out your best.

Slow-Down1The age of instant everything and our misguided beliefs about our own abilities have us falling into a speed trap where we see time as the great differentiator. But by extending time, we can better leverage our insight, experience, creativity and talents, and compete on something much more important.