You’re probably familiar with this phenomenon – the amount of work that’s needed to get a job done mysteriously expands – unless you take control. Yep, there’s a name for it – Parkinson’s Law. Just as gas fills the volume allotted to it, so work fills the time allotted to it.
Let’s say you’re going to write a blog post today. You guess it’ll take you two hours for the first draft. So you do what any conscientious achiever would do: you block out the two hours in Google Calendar.
But your blog post happens to be on a topic you’re passionate about. Your ideas come spilling onto your keyboard fast and easy. Before you know it, you’ve written 1,000 words in just under an hour.
So of course, you pack it in an hour early and enjoy your found time to go for a walk, start a book, take a nap. Right?
Not likely. If you’re like me, like most people, you keep writing. Hey, we have another hour to spend on our post. So we keep writing and wind up with a 2,000 – word post. Or go off on tangents with articles that take some twisty turns. Or maybe edit it instead of waiting for it to “marinate.” Or perhaps some more research.
Instead of using precious time efficiently, we stuff all sorts of things into that time slot that aren’t necessary.
But there are ways to make Parkinson’s Law work in your favor. Let’s look at some sneaky strategies to outsmart it. Logic tells us that if work expands to fill the time allotted to its completion, then the opposite must be true, right? What would happen if we squash the amount of time dedicated to completing a task? Yes, exactly!
1) Make a deadline for EVERYTHING.
Don’t plan any task or project, big or small, without a “due by” date (or time). No due date leaves your project open-ended; a procrastinator’s paradise! It also invites “one-of-these-days-itis” – “when I get around to it.” Few of us likes being under pressure, but it’s the absolute best way not only to get stuff done but turn out good work. Deep diving into the project or task turns on a flow state of ideas, inspiration, and success.
2) Work in sprints for longer projects.
After a certain period, your concentration and energy will flag, and a break is in order. Taking a break is necessary to rest, refresh, and revitalize yourself, ideally something utterly unrelated to your work. But even time off need a limit! I don’t usually use this particular technique (I live by planning my hours in Google Calendar), if work sprints sound useful to you, check out The Pomodoro Technique. I promise you. It’ll help you accomplish everything efficiently. Plus, it makes not-so-fun work kind of enjoyable. I mean, anyone can do something for 25 minutes, right? And twice an hour you get to pat yourself on the back for finishing something.
3) Break projects down into manageable steps.
This might be the most useful advice I ever heard, and it works! If your goal is too scary or overwhelming even to contemplate, break it down into actionable steps. An excellent way to determine action plans to deconstruct your goal. Imagine you’re in the future, and your project/goal is complete. What steps did you do in order to get there? Write them all down, and make sure they’re actionable tasks. These are the tasks you’ll use for your Pomodoro or however you structure your work sprints. And by the way – be very specific about what each task looks like when completed. Otherwise, “finished” might not be recognizable, and that would be a bummer.
When your anti-Parkinson techniques turn up pressure on completing tasks, your brain and body kick in all kinds of resources.
One caveat: don’t squash your time to a ridiculously small amount. You want to allow the minimum time needed to do a good job efficiently, not a half-assed one where you had to cut corners to finish something on time.
4) REFUSE to work after a specific time every single day.
6 pm seems reasonable. If you work for yourself or can start your workday earlier, then make sure you finish earlier. How many hours do you want/need to work every day? Adjust your start and stop times accordingly. Pack it in when your time’s up. Put a lock on it and adhere to it. Turn off notifications if necessary. Don’t bring your work home to your sofa – or worse – your bed! Sofas are for relaxing, and the bed is for sleeping. Establishing a cutoff time should act like a brick wall. When you know you can’t just “finish it tonight” you will find a way to get stuff done in the allotted time.
For further reading, this has some super interesting and relevant ideas. (That page has no relationship with me at all – but if you want to learn more, there you go).
Photo credit: Devaneth on Pixabay