Three by Three: Creating a Mini-Crisis to Improve Your Productivity

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” —Rahm Emanuel, American politician and former mayor of Chicago.

In his Spenser PI novels, the great mystery writer Robert Parker created an unforgettable character in Spenser’s girlfriend, Susan Silverman. She thrives on crises, often of her own making. In fact, when preparing for an appointment or presentation, she would often wait until the last minute to get started, knowing the stress will push her to productive heights.

Forcing yourself to accomplish too much in not enough time is an intriguing concept, but by definition, it can’t work if constantly practiced. We all remember times when we had to push to do more in less time—say, because we had to prepare for a vacation—and managed to get it done. Sometimes I even write more than an article a week to fill my buffer for those times when I need to take time off or attend a conference. And some very interesting books have resulted from annual National Novel Writing Month, when writers force themselves to complete a novel-length work in just 30 days.

So, let’s look at the idea of self-creating a mini-crisis for yourself at work to push your productivity higher. The reasons why a mini-crisis works are interrelated and include the following:

  1. It forces you to improve your time management skills. Natural or engineered, a crisis generally leaves you with less time than normal, so there’s none to waste. You must organize your time and resources; indeed, a crisis might require tighter planning than a normal project timeline, due to your need to focus.

  2. It emphasizes what’s most important. Speaking of focus, the bells and whistles need to go out the window. You stress what needs doing over what you want to do. Extras, even normal refinements, are fine when you have the time; otherwise, go for rough but functional, especially with prototypes. Perfectionism can’t get in the way of completion.

  3. It increases efficiency. Doing the right things right takes center stage. You can no more waste labor and materials than you can waste time. Organize all aspects of the task more efficiently, or you will fail.

Convinced you’d like to try it? Here are three ways to start:

  1. Limit the time allowed for the task. If you think it will take four days to complete a project or task, set a firm deadline for three. You can wait until the last minute to start, but it’s best to start when you normally would and try to finish early, just in case you need that extra day. You can also time yourself, using something like the Pomodoro technique, where you specify an amount of time to work on a task—say, 15 or 30 minutes daily—and then stop when the time runs out.

  2. Reprioritize. The goal of a mini-crisis is to create a sense of urgency, so reprioritize your tasks so the item you’ve created a crisis for stays right at the top of your to-list. You can’t finish quickly if other stuff keeps getting in the way. So, push it to the top of your list, if necessary making it the only thing on your list. If several items require crisis mode, prioritize them by deadline, or by importance if all have the same due date.

  3. Limit other resources. Saving time isn’t the only way to save money and increase profitability; you can also limit other resources. For many modern jobs, you may have few resources you can save beyond printer paper, computer access, and java for the break room. But at a managerial level, you may have a chance to save on every manager’s most worrying expense: labor.

Tempests in Teacups

Most people prefer to allow themselves plenty of time to do their tasks, and I’m one of them. But sometimes you can invent a mini-crisis to achieve higher productivity, either to offset complacency or because you require the extra time for other tasks. Like the Pomodoro technique, mini-crises force you to economize your resources and make better use of them, especially time. The occasional mini-crisis is especially useful if you analyze how you accomplished it and add those methods to your normal workflow, so you can maximize productivity in all situations.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland



  1. Chukwuka Eya says:

    What’s amazing about Laura’s write ups is her creative prowess. She writes and speaks without recourse to other people’s works or articles. I am inspired as am impressed.