The Better Work Project: Perform under pressure

01 April

How do we perform under pressure? In this podcast we discuss tips and techniques to help us to better manage stressful situations such as we find ourselves in right now with COVID-19.




  • There’s lots of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) associated with COVID-19 right now and there will be more to come.

  • Andy provided an example of his own experience performing under pressure -upgrading SoftEd’s operating systems in one go. It was ambitious with a lot of risk, and didn’t go all to plan. Provided a good opportunity to learn how to operate in challenging environments. It’s important to stop and to communicate what’s going on.
  • Effective forecasting - we explode the negative impact of everything. This is why communication is important to calm things down.
  • Calmness brings calmness to other people. What you project is important.
  • David provided an example of 9/11 and the 2009 recession. He tried to focus on what he could control to get things done. Breaking work down made it more manageable.
  • The brain isn’t good in dealing with new situations.  Adrenaline affects your ability to think clearly and take a step by step approach.
  • In a high stress environment, it is better to take a step back so that you can see more.
  • The front part of your brain likes to be more passive but having it under control is key so that you don’t get into the fight, flight or fear mode. When performing under pressure adrenaline gives you energy but too much of that can impact your work and result in a negative spiral or burnout.
  • ‘Perform under pressure’ by Dr Ceri Evans is a great book on this topic and has useful techniques.
  • When you become aware that you’re getting out of control - you’re becoming annoyed or feeling stressed, there are four things to do. First, take deep breaths. It calms your system and signals to your brain to stop the limbic response. Second, assess where you are on a scale of highly stressed or under control. Third, if under stress step back and lift yourself above the situation and figure out why you’re responding and what’s happening in a big picture sense. Finally, be able to respond in a positive way that takes advantage of the situational awareness. This helps a calm and measured approach.
  • You have to be honest, direct and positive under pressure for it to register with others.
  • In his book, Ceri Evans talks about bad things happening in three so be aware of it and prepare for it.
  • He also talks about drawing and filling in three circles when under stress. One circle for things you can’t control, one for what you can control, and one for what you can influence. That helps you frame what you can control. COVID is a good example of this.
  • Metacognition is what makes us human.
  • A shift in mindset requires emotional intelligence and self-awareness.
  • Clarity of purpose is key for leaders to provide to their teams – what’s my role and how can I create value? Being able to reframe things is really important right now. Makes team members feel like part of the solution and shifts them out of a negative spiral. Adaptive leaders create environments where people feel safe and trusted to get things done.
  • Under pressure you have to fight our bodies instincts - fight, get angry, freeze. Next, we have to self-assess and then use the techniques to operate under pressure.
  • Taking time out even when you’re really busy will help you.
  • Once you’ve got yourself under control then you can help others.
  • Start the day thinking about what you’re grateful for, it’s important right now to show others that you’re grateful for them. Journaling and mindfulness are also useful to calm your mind. Helps to reflect, grow, make sense of things and be clear about what we need to do, and improve.
  • Get yourself under control, there will be triggers but try and manage that and then you’re in a good position to help others.
  • Now is the time for us as leaders to take on the challenge in a positive way and lead other people through this time. 


  • 'Perform under pressure’ Ceri Evans



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