How to Not Procrastinate Under Pressure

Do you ever find yourself stuck when under pressure and can’t seem to get going? Many people do. It can be difficult to concentrate on tasks when external or internal pressures create brain fog that affects your ability to do your best work.

When distractions are causing pressure that makes you feel immobilized and unable to move forward, there are ways to get around it. Let’s start by taking a look at what makes us feel pressured and why it stops us in our tracks.

Under Pressure

Sometimes a slight amount of pressure can be positive. It can arouse feelings of motivation, engagement and excitement. But too much pressure can become an overload, where we feel out of control and confused. When we talk about this type of pressure, we are referring to an emotional state that clouds our thinking, slows our responses, and creates physiological stress.

There are basically two types of pressure, either external or internal. Some examples of external pressure could be expectations from others, a heavy workload, illness and relationships with other people, both in our personal and work environments. Internal pressures are things like pushing yourself too hard and having excessively high expectations of your own performance. Over scheduling yourself can add pressure to an already busy schedule as well.

In 1908, Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson developed the Inverted-U theory of motivation. This model theorized that people are able to do their best work when they have an appropriate amount of pressure for the job they are doing. When the pressure increased, becoming greater than what would be needed to feel motivated, the work performance became less. The idea is that some pressure can be beneficial, but too much becomes immobilizing.

Reign in Your Emotions

Emotions are related to the depth of thought with which we can make decisions. It might be nice to think that decisions are made strictly with rational thought, but that’s not true. Emotions come into play in all of our thinking processes. It just depends on what type of emotions they are and how we use them.

Emotion driven responses” are a reaction to a stimulus. When the emotional impulsive brain overrides your rational one, it shuts it down. To keep your rational brain on track, you need to slow down so it can reboot. Slow breathing can be a useful tool to help make that happen.

When you are using emotional thinking you might make decisions based on what feels good and be opposed to the rational mind. Thinking and focusing on the emotional side of things can make you more reactive and defensive.

On the other hand, “Emotion informed choices” are made intentionally with a full understanding of options and outcomes. When using rational thinking, your strategies could be based on what makes sense intellectually. Logic and facts are part of the rational way of looking at things, but they might miss an emotional component that could weigh in on effective decision making.

So what happens if we use both types of thinking together?

When rational and emotional thinking are combined, you might arrive at something we call “Wisdom”. This is the balance between the two, resulting in mindfulness. By honoring the emotional thoughts, yet acting rationally, you can often come to decisions based on facts, logic and compassion. This form of “wisdom” can help you move past procrastination in stressful situations.

What Kind of Pressure?

There are different kinds of pressure that can be causing your procrastination. Are you feeling stressed over an approaching deadline? Or are you pressured by other circumstances that are pulling you away from thinking about your task?

Although both of these situations are examples of pressure, the way you choose to handle them can be completely different. Your reaction to an upcoming deadline can be met with time management tools and checking to be sure you have the resources you need to do the job. Then it becomes a matter of personal discipline.

On the other hand, if you are feeling pressure due to distractions from things like relationship issues or illness, you would have another way of looking at your options. Taking some time to resolve the issue and clear your head will allow you to refocus on your work once the situation has passed.

Reframe Your Thoughts

Feeling under pressure can cloud your thoughts and make it difficult to move forward with clarity and motivation. It can seem confusing to even know where to begin. Winston Churchill stated,

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

Whatever distractions are causing the delays, you can assess them and make an informed decision about how to move forward.

Ask yourself, “How am I feeling about working on this project?” Is there an external distraction? Or is the resistance coming from within? Once you have identified the reason for your procrastinating, then ask yourself if there is a better way of dealing with this obstacle.

Becoming overwhelmed can create a cycle of procrastination. The more overwhelmed you are, the harder it is to get started. And the harder it is to get started, the more overwhelmed you become. The longer this cycle continues the more difficult it can be. Like blocks being stacked on top of one another, more pressures can add to the feeling of being stuck and overwhelmed.

By thinking about what is keeping you from your task, you can start addressing each block one at a time, and focus on that, rather than letting other thoughts, people or circumstances hijack your plans.

Focus on the Plan

Once you’ve identified your emotions, reframed your thinking and acknowledged any external and internal distractions, you can focus on a plan to get yourself back on track. Setting goals and utilizing time management tips are a good place to start. Schedule your tasks in an organized way to make a plan for completion. If you need breaks to deal with outside situations along the way, make time for them. But stay on track with blocks of time to work on your tasks.

Writer, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, came up with what is known as “Parkinson’s Law”, that explains the notion that work will expand to the amount of time you allow for it. In a humorous essay, he stated that a task will take as long as you allow it to. If you tell yourself you have a week to do something, many people will take all week to do it. Whereas, if you tell yourself it has to be done today, you might find it can be done in a much shorter period of time.

Use time management skills to get things done in a reasonable period. It can be easy to procrastinate if you think you have plenty of time to do something. But then you might be feeling some unwelcome pressure when you approach that upcoming deadline. You never know what else may come up causing additional pressure at the last minute that is out of your control.

Remember that you have control over one thing, and that is you. You choose how to respond to any given situation. Dr. Wayne Dyer said,

“Anything that immobilizes you, gets in your way or keeps you from your goals, is all yours. You can throw it away anytime you choose.”

Understand the reasons you are feeling pressured. By using time management tools and setting personal boundaries you might find you have less stress, leading to less procrastination. Whether it’s a deadline looming over you, constant distractions, too many tasks piling up or other pressure causing you to procrastinate, the way you choose to deal with it is up to you. The circumstances of what is happening may not be under your control, but the way you respond to it always is.

You may not be able to eliminate all situations that create pressure in your life, but when you have control over yourself, you will be able to act from a place of personal power and calm. Then your decisions and actions can be based on informed choices that are in your best interest.

Ernest Hemingway wrote,

“Courage is grace under pressure.”

Have the courage to confront the obstacles in your path, and from there you can move forward without hesitation.

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