How do you behave when you’re on a tight deadline?

Say you’ve got to submit grades by 5 pm, finish a paper by midnight, or make final arrangements for this weekend’s event with 1,000 attendees. You’re under the gun, and you need to produce. Not tomorrow, not tonight. Now.

What do you do?

  • shut your door?
  • move to an undisclosed location?
  • turn on background music or white noise?
  • close your email tab?
  • turn off alerts on your smartphone?
  • down a double espresso?
  • hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your doornob (or tape one to the back of your shirt, like this guy?)

By now, you’ve probably got a vivid mental picture of yourself in a hyper-focused state. Now, compare that mental picture to how you usually work.

If you’re like, me, these two pictures are pretty different.

There’s a simple equation that describes the relationship between productivy, time, and effort. It’s so simple that you already know it, intuitively. Cal Newport describes it nicely in his book How to Become a Straight-A Student:

work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus

When we don’t have much time, we ratchet up the intensity to compensate. We can’t work at maximum intensity all the time–we’d burn out–but we go there when we have to.

Here’s what I’m asking: what if we increased our default focus level by a notch or two? If each day we employed one or two of the tactics above and approached our daily work with 10% more focus?

We’d become slightly more productive, is what. But over weeks, months, years–or an entire lifetime–that slight difference might lead to an extraordinarily more effective life.