A simple strategy for staying calm under pressure

If there’s one thing I’ve seen across every leader that I’ve worked with over the years, it is that they are calm under pressure. The world might seem to be crumbling around them, but they hold it together for the sake of the team. Most leaders don’t become calm under pressure by chance, they achieve it through deliberate practice and by having a process.

One thing that is clear from great leaders is that they’re calm under pressure, the ability to be calm under pressure comes from being prepared and knowing what to do when the heat comes on!

Do you keep calm under pressure? – Your answer might be “yes”, but do you have a clear strategy for doing so?

Throughout my career I have adopted a mantra for myself which is: document first but do second. The concept is really simple – everything you’re ever asked to do, no matter how small – you write it down.

When I started as a junior developer I would take every task anyone gave me (and try to) do it immediately without writing it down.

“Hey Lou, can you do this?” … “Yeah sure – let me do this now!”

You know what happens next, right? Another distraction comes in, and another – a message, an email and before you know it you have no idea what you’re supposed to be working on anymore!

By taking on tasks immediately you end up:

  • Forgetting things
  • Losing track of your work
  • Struggling to prioritise
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling unproductive

This is really damaging to your productivity and most importantly damages your reputation as a dependable clear headed team member!

After all the essence of being effective is not in what you do – it’s in what you don’t do …

As the agile manifesto states as one of it’s 12 principles …

Simplicity – the art of maximising the amount of work not done – is essential

(If you’ve not read the agile manifesto – I’d recommend it, it’s thought provoking, and not just for software people!)

By writing things down first, you can prioritize and plan your work – not only that but you can clear your head to focus on the task at hand … when you’ve got a lot on your mind, you’ll keep reminding yourself of that other thing – so write it down.

This chaos of documenting first can be even more impactful when under pressure and applied to a team. When issues come in that are urgent the best thing to do is stop with your team and document what you’re all going to do … and then do it.

Tips to keep in mind

  • Nothing is too small – This one is hard to grasp, someone might say “It’ll only take 2 minutes!” and try to pressure you … but you need to stick to your guns – all of these 2 minutes add up. It’s not just about the two minutes, but it’s the context switch that is going to crush your productivity.
  • Document for others – A good leader can take control under pressure, when you see others under stress and rushing in to fix things you can choose to react differently – stop, take stock, write everything down and organise for everyone else so your team can keep clarity. When the urgency is over – you can then all reflect on your actions with you team members.
  • Don’t crumple under pressure – Don’t throw this process out of the window when the heat is on – stick to it – this process is utilised best when you’re under pressure.


Question: What are your strategies for remaining calm under pressure?

— Let me know in the comments!

Lou Bichard