Our modern lives have an incredible number of time-saving devices, tools and resources to make everything easier and quicker. But we seem to end up working more and more all the time with little to show for it.
The uncomfortable truth is that every productive technology that’s meant to help us do better at work is increasingly becoming a distraction.
Parkinson’s Law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
This statement was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson as part of the first sentence of a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955 and since republished online, it was reprinted with other essays in the book Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress (1958).
If you give yourself a week to complete a one day task, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting so as to fill that week.
If work expands to fill the time allotted to it, the trick to get more done is to make less time available to get more work done quicker.
Setting time limits and deadlines is the most straightforward way to break Parkinson’s law.
Restrictions can actually create freedom!
As the length of time allocated to a task became shorter, the task became simpler and easier to solve. So only give yourself a limited amount of time to complete a task, and you’ll do it. This may seem paradoxical, but it works. Being aware of Parkinson’s law can radically improve your life because of the simple solution that it offers.
Master your time to master your life
Tony Robbins once said “Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year — and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!”
You have an average of 2,400 minutes every week to yourself. Time is your most valuable asset at work. And time spent can never be reclaimed. A lot can be achieved every week if you know what you are doing at any point in time.
Ultra productive people focus on getting a lot done with every minute they have at their disposal. Allocate time to each task you need to get done every day.
Each task of the day should be attainable, realistic, and time-bound. The time constraint will push you to focus and be more efficient.
Don’t forget to allow downtime between tasks to refresh. Go for a short walk, read a book, or listen to a podcast. Choose a mind-clearing activity that works best for you. Your brain needs a short break to recuperate, and then you are ready to move on to another task.
Reclaim your time and suddenly you’ll have a whole bunch of extra time to work on your life goals, to relax and de-stress yourself, to spend time with family and friends, to read, to improve yourself, to work on a passion project, to exercise. It’ll be one of the most important things you do.
Set time boxes
Take those time boxes you set for yourself and now shrink them! Can you do the same task 10% faster? Maybe 20%? A little more, perhaps?
You’ll find yourself becoming more productive during the time you actually work, because you have to get your stuff done faster.
Give yourself 30 minutes to complete something, or an hour. If the task is too large to complete in an hour, break it into smaller tasks, and time box those smaller tasks.
To help you stick with your new work hours, set appointments for 30 minutes after you’re supposed to get off work. So if you tell yourself you’re absolutely going to leave work at 5 p.m. (or even better, at 3 p.m.), set an appointment for 5:30 p.m. and stick to it.
Set a hard deadline. Set a specific goal for the end of that length of time, and set it in stone.
If you set a tighter deadline for each of your tasks today, you’ll be inspired to find the most productive way to meet those deadlines and get your work done.
How you can apply the Parkinson’s Law right now!
Make a list of the tasks you need to accomplish by close of day today. Then, think about how much time it will take to accomplish each of those tasks in an average day. Cut the time you’ve set for each task in half.
Once you begin your work, you’ll find you’re in a race against the clock. That’s exactly what you want because it will inspire you to work smarter instead of harder.
When you’re done, take a look back and see how you’ve fared. Measure your progress and improve accordingly.
Did you inflate the time required for some tasks? Did you work smart instead of hard?
There may be some tasks that you simply can’t cut hours on or some that you can cut even more time from. Adjust your schedule to work better, faster and smarter.
Use the Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique teaches us to work with time, instead of struggling against it. It can help you power through distractions and get things done in short bursts.
The Pomodoro Technique, strictly about time-management was developed by Italian entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo. He created this simple study habit (when he was still a college student in the late 1980s) to maximize his productivity and reduce a feeling of burnout.
It focuses on working in short, intensely focused bursts, and then giving yourself a brief break to recover and start over. The technique requires a timer, and it allows you to break down your large complex task into manageable intervals. Once you break your work into focused time blocks, you can manage it for the rest of time allocated for it.
Separate the urgent from the important tasks
What is important today may be urgent tomorrow. It’s your job to know what is urgent and needs immediate attention and what is important that can be put off until tomorrow.
When your tasks are separated into important and urgent, you are more likely to give attention to them and get them done as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid to have someone take a message, or to answer that e-mail tomorrow, so you can concentrate on your tasks.
Reduce your commitments. You probably have too much on your plate. If you edit your commitments, you can reduce your workload and the amount of time you need to work.