As an entrepreneur, you may be accustomed to working under pressure. You might even glorify and accept it, saying “I work better under pressure!” But is that really true? Do pressure and stress have a positive effect on work quality and productivity? Let’s take a look at existing research on the topic to find out.
“I work better under pressure.”
Turns out, there’s some scientific backing to the principle that some people work better under pressure. The Yerkes Dodson Theory of Arousal (1908) states that there is an “optimal” level of arousal – stress or pressure – under which the best performance will be elicited from a person.
However, once that optimal level is passed, the person’s performance will take a nosedive. The type of task at hand is one variable that can change this principle, but overall, it seems that people may work better under pressure – to a point.
When the pressure is too high…
When a person feels stressed or under pressure, the body reacts in predictable, physiological ways. Stress hormones like cortisol are released in larger quantities when the level of stress passes the threshold, impairing a person’s ability to make decisions, learn new information, or recall information (memory).
So while a little procrastination and the mental pressure of getting a project done quickly or without the proper resources may be a productivity boost for some entrepreneurs, there’s a limit to how productive one can be while under intense pressure. A little pressure may help you cross the finish line; too much will prevent you from reaching it.
Stress and pressure do appear to increase productivity and help people “work better,” but it’s important to visualize a bell curve when considering this principle. Too little arousal – stress – will likely result in mediocre work. The right amount will encourage and motivate some to do their best work. And too much will cause most to shut down and find themselves incapable of completing a project or task as needed.
Recognizing too much pressure
The trick is finding your “tipping point” and respecting it. The best way to do this is by being mindful of your emotions, thoughts, and performance. If you find that you’re experiencing any of the potential indicators of high stress (irritability, slacking performance, upset stomach or nausea, etc.), you may want to reconsider the methods you’re using to finish the project and try to find ways to reduce the pressure when you’re working. This can include asking for support or assistance from someone, outsourcing tasks that cause you to feel stressed, or finding ways to improve your productivity so you can work smarter, not harder.
If you feel that you work better under pressure, you very likely do. But it’s important to remember that moderation is key, and if you’re relying on the adrenaline burst you get from pulling a project together last-minute in order to be productive, you may need to make some changes to make your work more satisfying.