When you're up against a deadline, your brain can play mean tricks on you. What begins as mild concern can mushroom into an all-consuming dread as the clock races toward your day of reckoning.
There's a reason why so many managers suffer anxiety when facing a looming deadline. Research into brain chemistry indicates that our working memory--our capacity to store information and use it as needed--goes haywire when we experience stress. And we rely on our working memory to meet deadlines. In one study, participants with a high level of working memory confronted tough math problems. People who faced stressful situations performed worse than the group that worked under calmer conditions, according to research at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
The researchers concluded that by injecting a layer of stress, they overtaxed individuals' working memory. As a result, the test subjects grew worried or preoccupied about making mistakes in computing the math problems.
Ironically, the study participants with a normal level of working memory didn't seem as fazed by the added stress. They performed about the same under stressful or calm circumstances. If you're unusually smart and you possess an above-average working memory, it's particularly crucial that you reduce stress as a big deadline approaches. Lighten your mental load to make headway.
Marshal your mind power In the days and hours leading up to your deadline, harness your mental energy so that you don't squander it. This will sharpen your cognitive focus while reducing your stress. Sweep away all stress-inducing influences from your brain. Postpone any dreary or emotionally draining chores until after your deadline--or delegate them to others.
Don't try to multitask. Researchers at Miami University suggest using a calculator to crunch numbers rather than computing in your head, and writing appointments in your day planner rather than trying to remember them.