“I do my best work under pressure.”
I’ve heard this plenty of times. I certainly get the concept in the moment. There is not much time left, your adrenaline starts pumping, and you crank it out. Makes sense, right? But the reality is, the research does not support it.
I highly recommend the well researched book called Performing Under Pressure by Hendrie Weisinger, PhD. In it, Hendrie and his coauthor say clearly:
- Pressure adversely impacts our cognitive success,
- Pressure downgrades our behavioral skills, and
- In pressure moments, most people perform below their capability.
Why? With all the extra adrenaline produced in the heat of the moment, we should have super powers. We don’t.
Researcher Roy Baumeister dug into this in his classic study Choking Under Pressure: Self-Consciousness and Paradoxical Effects of Incentives on Skillful Performance. He found that extra pressure increases our conscious attention to our own process, and that this takes away from our ability to utilize our skills.
Pressure dials up our awareness of what we are doing in a way that hurts our doing. We start asking ourselves, “How much time do I have left? How should I approach this?” For me, even if I did get some benefit of adrenaline to get one thing done well, I would be exhausted and unable to complete the next task or the rest of my day with vigor.
There is a better way, however. One thing that makes all the difference. My friend Shawn Blanc taught me a very important concept: Margin. Margin is when you have more than you need, just a little extra providing a buffer.
Margin might mean having more time than you need, or having some extra money in the bank in case of emergency. It might mean when you need that important favor from someone, you’ve created margin by helping them immensely in the past.
It is almost easier to describe lack of margin however.
Lack of margin means you have five hours of work to do in two. Lack of margin is when you do not have the savings at home to handle an emergency expense and you have to turn to your credit cards. Lack of margin is when you have leaned on someone else over and over, never adding more value than you took.
Having margin is a beautiful thing. When you have margin, you can march calmly and confidently towards your goals. Your deadlines are met. Your relationships are strong.
There is only one way I have found to build margin. It is by investing early, in all facets of life.
Here are a few examples:
- Timeline margin: Invest early in your projects. Get ahead. Feel the sense of urgency before others.
- Strategic margin: Shoot one notch higher than needed. If you want to run a 5K in 23 minutes, build your workouts to finish in 22. In business development, build the pipeline twice as big as you think you need.
- Analytical margin: Create your budgets so you have extra. This lets you invest opportunistically at home or at work. Take the monthly savings number your financial advisor gives you and add 20%.
- Relationship margin: Add more value than you take, every single time, with every single person. Value can be helping someone network, proactively giving them an idea or simply being enjoyable to be around. Shoot to add more than you take and you will have awesome relationships across the board.
Margin is powerful. It is important. In my own experience, margin correlates to doing my best work with less stress. When I look back on my life, the times where I was stressed have also been the times where I lacked margin. The times I’ve thrived have been when I have had margin. The abundance brings about taking things to the next level, achieving more than I thought I could.
Having margin is magic.