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I have lived much of 2020 very much on my own terms. One of the second-order effects is a lot of “open” goals and a glaring lack of strict deadlines when it comes to the things I choose to spend my time on. There is no external force applying pressure, and whilst I try to set myself deadlines and goals to get things done, the personal nature of it all is inherently void of pressure. Personal accountability, in general, is already one of the toughest things to get right.

In recent months, I have gradually invited external pressure and re-acquainted myself with deadlines, and by extension, very clearly defined goals. It is like a breath of fresh air. Whilst I wouldn’t say I was unproductive prior to inviting this pressure, I certainly was not as laser-focussed with how most effectively to work as I am now.

If I tried to capture this transformation in my approach to work in one sentence, it would be that before I thought of all the things I could do to make progress, and now I think of what must be done to get the job done? It is subtle, but has made all the difference. As much as I used to dread this external pressure, having gone a year free of it, I certainly have developed a newfound appreciation for it.

The pressure becomes much easier to stomach, to the point where one could say they thrive in it, if the goal is aligned to their own personal values and goals. This is something I feel like I have benefited from. All the pressure I have invited is welcome, the key here compared to years past is that I want this pressure here, whereas before I didn’t really have much of a say.

Taken to the extreme, however, external pressure can have a debilitating effect. There is a fine line than must be towed, a balancing act that often biases towards too much pressure. I suppose that’s why top managers and leaders get plaudits when things go well and the blame when it doesn’t – they are responsible for keeping the house of cards up and strong.

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