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Thinking Under a Deadline

The effects of pressure on our ability to think critically

· Critical thinking,Deadlines,stress

Deadlines are a part of life. Look closely, and you’ll find them just about everywhere. The world operates on a schedule, and nobody is exempt. Consider, for example, the “Three C’s” of life success: college readiness, career readiness, and civic readiness. School, of course, comes with myriad deadlines for assignments, term papers, and theses. The workplace is full of deadlines, from major projects down to your weekly time card. And what about the important civic deadline of November 8th? You can’t request just a couple more days to decide who to vote for.

Clearly, we can’t get away from deadlines. So how do we approach them to minimize our stress and maximize our success?

First, it’s important to understand “your brain on a deadline.” Like most aspects of cognition, everyone has a different reaction to deadlines. Psychologist Ginger E. Blume (2008) has described some of the different ways we approach them. “Deadline resistors,” for instance, stubbornly refuse to obey deadlines. “Deadline aficionados,” on the other hand, welcome the challenge; they feel motivated by deadlines, and find it hard to work efficiently without them (Blume, 2008).

Even if we all respond differently to deadlines, studies have revealed some insight into common ways the human brain works under pressure. For example, time pressure has been shown to make people feel like they’re thinking exceptionally creatively -- even when they’re really not putting up their best ideas (Vanderkam, 2014). Additional research by Richard Boyatzis (2013) provided deeper insight into this phenomenon; while people under deadlines feel a sense of urgency to fix problems and troubleshoot, they don’t feel open to approaching those problems in creative ways (Blackman, 2014).

Thankfully, science has also suggested some ways that we can overcome this paradoxical reaction to time pressure. Forbes author Ty Kiisel (2013) offers a practical and straightforward tip: don’t let the pressure of a deadline paralyze you into inaction . With so much pressure to get things right on the first try, it’s easy to become so afraid of making a mistake that you never take action at all. This is a surefire way to not get things done.

Psychologists also warn against pushing back deadlines. While this may seem like a great idea, science has shown that when we give ourselves extra time to complete a task, we don’t generally use that time wisely. With “wiggle room” comes decreased motivation, the tendency to procrastinate, and poor judgment of how long it will actually take to complete tasks (Halvorson, 2013).

What kind of reaction do you have to tight deadlines? Do you find them helpful or harmful? Share the strategies you’ve developed to stay cool under pressure and meet deadlines with ease.


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