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Race Against the Clock - How to Manage Working Under Pressure

During a Make48 competition, time is one thing you don’t have much of. With only 48 hours total - which amounts to even less when you factor in sleeping and eating time - to come up with an original idea, design it, and build a prototype, it can get pretty stressful.

My own experience competing definitely involved a bit of stress. The stress level of our team was at its height during the last night, when we realized just how much we still had to accomplish and how few hours were left.

We were able to overcome that stress and finish our prototype with almost an hour still remaining, but that was due to a few management strategies we employed toward the end. I now know that at the national competition, there are a few things I want to do more of to better manage the stress of working under pressure.

This article will list many tips and advice about working under pressure from myself and others I competed with. Hopefully, something from this article will help you the next time you have an important deadline to meet.

Tip #1: Make an organized task list. On the last night of the competition when our stress was high, I decided to write out a list of everything we still needed to do. I went through all the individual parts we still needed to build and would check things off as we completed them. This gave us immediate and longer goals - things we knew we could get done right away and which tasks would take more time. It also allowed us to visualize progress as the list got smaller and smaller, which definitely encouraged and motivated me.

Tip #2: Get some sleep. After a lot of stress and worry about the project the last night, I woke up early the next morning and felt full of energy and ready to finish our build. I didn’t even get that much sleep, but the sleep that I did get helped my nerves to calm and my brain to rejuvenate. We accomplished a lot that final morning, and part of it could’ve been my renewed energy after a night of rest.

Tip #3: Focus on the most important tasks first. My team was able to include almost everything that we wanted on our prototype, but there were times when it looked like we wouldn’t have time to add some things. In those cases, we looked at what we had left to do and tried to focus on the most important things first. We knew our shelf had to have a roof before we could engrave designs on the sides. Once the biggest requirements were finished, we had time left for the details.

Tip #4: Multitask, multitask, multitask. Along the same lines as the tip above, while an important part of the prototype was being built by the tool techs, we were working on a smaller detail or talking to other tool techs about what we would need from them later. There were only a few moments spent doing nothing. If something wasn’t actively being made, we were sharing ideas and suggestions as a team. We were able to maximize our time by multitasking.

Tip #5: Have a schedule. Cecilia Leal, one of my teammates, advises people to have a schedule. As well as having a task list, keep a mental rough schedule. Decide what time you want to start working and when you want to stop for the day, and also what you want to accomplish each day. For example, in the competition, we still had a lot to accomplish after Saturday night. We all agreed to wake up early and go to the Makerspace as early as possible - right at 6:00 am when it opened.

Tip #6: Communicate. Cecilia also says that communication was key. I can attest to that. If you have a team of people all working together to create something, you need to talk to each other. If you don’t discuss ideas and come to an agreement about what you want to do, everybody might be trying to do completely different things. Also, if you communicate, you can designate different tasks so you have time to get everything done.

Tip #7: Set an outline and stick to it. Issac McBurney, another competitor, who was on team Varicella, gives this advice: “Set an outline of what you want to get done and stick to this, but let it change with what happens. My team set aside some time to work out the issues that arose. We planned to make mistakes and were able to work around them. We spent 2 or 3 hours at the start planning. We didn’t really get to actually building until a little bit before the prototype meeting with the IP attorney.”

Tip #8: Be in the moment. According to Patrick Wilson, a competitor on team Intelleggtuals, “It's important, I think, to try and be as 'in the moment' as possible. Considering the task at hand, keeping yourself busy, etc. will help and time can fly by if you don't think about it. The hardest thing, though, is getting started with the competition, but that's why you have a team there. If nothing else, just hang out. Talk to them, absorb yourself into conversation.”

Tip #9: Let yourself have fun. When I asked Callie Dyches, my other teammate, she talked about how socializing was a de-stresser. “I was really stressed on the last night because we had to [glue our prototype] like three different times and it kept falling apart. But it was really helpful because, as we were doing that, we were joking around and kind of cheering each other on and that made it a lot less stressful. We also talked with the other teams a little bit and basically it was helpful to be around the other people.”

Tip #10: Make sure to eat. Callie also joked about the snacks we had throughout the event and how they helped to distract her. Jokes aside, though, getting some food and not ignoring meals to work is a good way to remain energized and in a good mood, which will help you work better and more efficiently.

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