Be a Top Performer, Even Under Pressure
BackBy Dave Willmer — May 2009
Uncertainty about the ongoing recession, worries about job security and larger workloads are just a few of the issues on IT professionals’ minds. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but the following tips can help you stand out as a top performer, even during the most stressful times:
Keep a to-do list. When you’re juggling several assignments at once, you risk letting some slip through the cracks. By putting together a to-do list with project descriptions and deadlines, you’ll be better able to prioritize and anticipate problems down the road. Look at your list as soon as you arrive at work so you can plan accordingly and focus on the most pressing issues first. Update the list as you complete assignments or are handed new ones.
Avoid procrastinating. It’s always tempting to put off working on a project that you don’t want to do or that demands a lot of time. The problem is that these tasks can linger in the back of your mind and increase your stress level. So instead of ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room, tackle it head-on. If you need to, break the project into smaller parts; this will make the task seem more manageable. In addition, reaching frequent milestones will increase your motivation to finish the rest of the project.
Stay flexible. With many companies operating leaner, it’s likely you’ll have to switch assignments at the drop of a hat. Embrace new challenges and use them as opportunies to demonstrate your flexibility and team-first attitude. Taking on a high-priority assignment or a project that requires you to stretch your abilities also can help you build your skill set.
Keep the big picture in mind. If you’re constantly moving at full speed, it can be hard to focus on anything other than the task immediately at hand. But don’t lose sight of the big picture. Make sure the projects you’re working on are tied to your firm’s or department’s needs and goals — for example, cutting costs or driving new revenue. If not, reprioritize so you’re not spinning your wheels.
Gather information. If you’re under the gun, one of the worst things you can do is clam up. In time crunches, having as much information as possible is key to ensuring projects remain on track. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — especially about deadlines, deliverables or resources — if you need clarification. Not doing so can put the project at risk and make your boss think twice the next time he or she searches for a trusted team member to take on a high-profile assignment.
Ask for assistance. As the saying goes, no person is an island, but some IT professionals operate under the assumption that they’re able to handle anything that comes their way. Problems arise when workers realize too late that they were wrong. Smart employees are the ones who know when they need help and where to go to for assistance.
Take a break. In the thick of things, you may want to power through and finish a crucial project despite feelings of fatigue. But that’s how errors occur. You’ll thank yourself later if you step away and stretch your legs or grab a healthy snack when your energy begins to wane. If you need to stay by your phone, something as simple as leaning back and closing your eyes for a few minutes can help you recover your momentum.
All that said, perhaps the best advice for successfully dealing with stress in the workplace is simply: Stay calm. By remaining cool and collected during stressful situations, you’re doing your part to make things a little easier for all involved. And everyone will notice and appreciate it — including your boss.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.