More time? MORE TIME?
Am I crazy? You can’t even finish your existing tasks. How will you find more time? How will you be more productive?
Each morning, you wake up with the resolve to make the most of the day, to be more productive than yesterday. But when the day ends, you wonder where it went. When you reflect, your realize how much time you wasted. This wastage, you discover, is why you didn’t do many important things.
Tomorrow will be different, you promise yourself. You’ll buckle up and use your time meaningfully. You’ll complete important tasks which will make you feel happy. You will find time to do everything that’s important to you.
But life has other plans. Urgent tasks surface again. And important ones lie unnoticed in a corner, like broken toys. Another day wasted. More time washed down the drain.
Eventually, wasting time becomes a habit, a part of your life. So much that you stop noticing it, like a fish stops noticing water. Sure, every few days you rue the lack of time. But almost immediately, you’re back to doing things which push you away from your goal. You treat time like a commodity when, in fact, it’s the most valuable currency.
Sounds terrifying, right? Yet it’s true. And you know it.
You wish you could emerge victorious in this battle against time. How do achievers manage to do much more than you? Do you wish you could be like them, or even half as good as them?
Here’s the good news. You can. Achievers and productive people follow one law, well known to insiders in the circle of productivity, but barely known to the rest.
Ready to know the secret which could change your life?
Enter Parkinson’s Law
In 1955, famous British historian and author Cyril Northcote Parkinson, observed:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Parkinson had worked in the British Civil Service. He experienced firsthand why bureaucracy was (and still is) inefficient and hopeless. His observation eventually became the opening line in an article for The Economist, and the topic of one of his books – Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.
Read the law again: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
See where I’m going with this?
The more time you have to complete a task, the longer it takes. You agree, don’t you? You’ve experienced this often.
This is how it goes. You set a ‘realistic deadline’. It’s comfortable and includes buffer space. You’re certain to complete the task within the timeframe. But with each passing day, the task appears more monstrous, until it occupies your complete mind space. The deadlines extends, and keeps extending. Eventually, you finish the task. But the outcome is a far cry away from what you expected to achieve. Obviously, you feel dissatisfied.
What went wrong? Conventional wisdom states that this is how deadlines are set and adhered to, right? Isn’t this how you can be productive in life, work and business?
Yes and no.
Realistic deadlines are comfortable and give you breathing space. The truth about productivity though, is the opposite. The less you work, the better your output is. Allow me to explain this paradox with a personal example.
A colleague gave me a week to prepare a sales pitch. It’s simple, I thought. Seven days are more than enough.
But for six days, I huffed and hawed and ‘suffered from creativity block’. I did nothing but stare at the blank screen. I’m glad the screen is a non-living thing or I would’ve certainly been jailed for lecherous behavior.
On the seventh day, I sat down in a café, ordered my favorite coffee, and got to work. Within two hours, my presentation was ready, built from scratch. My friend offered his inputs. Adding those took twenty minutes.
And Voila! In two hours twenty minutes, I finished what I couldn’t in six days.
Have you noticed something similar? If you send an email a week before a discussion, people generally say they glanced through it? But if you share something important just a few hours before a meeting, almost everyone reads it well.
So how can you use Parkinson’s Law to your benefit? How can you increase productivity in the workplace, at home and in life? Here are some strategies.
[Disclaimer: Some techniques will shock you. They may even appear ridiculous. But I request you to keep an open mind, and not reject anything before you’ve tried it a few times.]
In a nutshell, here are 4 techniques you can use to find time to do everything you want:
- Fight the clock
- Eliminate Distractions
- Take Off
- Finish Before 10
Now, let’s dive deeper into each of them.
1. Fight the Clock
As mentioned before, most of us set ‘realistic deadlines’. But this has a fatal drawback. Our subconscious mind relaxes and takes it easy. Soon, the ‘going easy’ turns into a full-blown mental monster. The deadline flies by. Quality is compromised. Life becomes a living hell.
The solution? Shorten your deadline. But don’t just shorten it. Go all out. Be audacious and halve the deadline, suggest Joel Falconer.
As ridiculous as it sounds, this will do you a world of good. Here’s how.
You mostly won’t achieve your goal in half the time, Falconer agrees. Parkinson’s Law, after all, is an observation, not Harry Potter’s magic wand. But you will become more productive. You’ll go beyond ‘working harder’ and start working smart.
After the task is over, reflect on how you did. Examine what worked and what didn’t. Cut out the fat. Rinse. Repeat. Follow this a few times more. You’ll discover the optimal time taken to complete your tasks. That time will be about forty percent lesser than what you currently take.
Think about it. What can you do with 40 percent more time!
Fighting the clock will remove futile tasks from your to-do list. It’ll teach you to say “no” like a pro, and make you treat your time with care. It’ll exponentially improve the quality of your output too.
Competition drives man, and fuels improvement. Why compete against anyone when you can compete against the clock and your yester-self?
Next: The most crucial step you must take to fight the clock…
2. Eliminate Distractions
I hate to break it to you. But anything that pulls you away from your goal in that moment is a distraction. Your partner, children, colleagues, email, social media and apps, notifications… they’re all distractions when you want to get stuff done.
So fire them. (For that moment.)
Block distracting websites when you do deep focused work (you can get some ideas here). If colleagues disturb you often, put on your headphones without playing music. When you work at home, lock your door. Open it only if the house is on fire, or when you’ve completed your work.
Yes, at first, it’ll be excruciating. The Fear of Missing Out, worrying about what others will think of you, the familiar “oh you’ve changed” remarks, blame games for the delay of urgent (unimportant) tasks… they’ll eat your insides.
But gradually, people will realize that life goes on even without constant access to you. And you’ll understand that life goes on without 24/7 connectivity. You’ll witness an improvement in your work and increased productivity. You’ll feel happier and use your time well.
Of course, I still slip up many times. Those days are horrible! *shudders*
Alright. Eliminate Distractions: Check. Fight the clock: Check.
What more can you do?
3. Take Off
We’re familiar with the ‘pedal to the metal’ approach. Work long hours for seven days each week, 52 weeks a year. We’re not workaholics. We just don’t know which projects deserve our attention and which don’t.
This ‘always-on’ work schedule isn’t healthy, explains Shawn Blanc in a revealing post. Plus, such schedules rob you of mental strength and mind space. You keep thinking you have time to complete your tasks and become complacent. Working all the time is also exhausting.
Instead, Shawn has switched to a 6-1-1 cycle: 6 weeks of Focused Work, 1 week for Buffer Work, and 1 Week as a Sabbatical.
During the Focused Work Cycle, his team focuses only on completing the existing tasks. They don’t entertain anything not associated with those tasks. His team documents new ideas. But if they’re not related to the current task, the ideas have to wait.
The Buffer Week allows his team to work hard for 6 weeks, knowing that they have a week to tie up loose ends later. Which is sensible. Once you get in the productivity groove, even a week is a long time to complete pending work.
Finally, the Sabbatical week lets you rejuvenate before you burn out. It clears your mind and makes you develop better focus for the Focused Work Cycle. In the Sabbatical week, you can also examine new ideas and what you said “no” to in the Focused Work Cycle.
If you work in an organization, you can’t take a sabbatical every 7 weeks. Instead, use that week to explore other aspects you enjoy, or want to pursue. Do the bare minimum to keep your job. Your boss won’t complain. Anyway, you are a hundred times more productive than the rest of your team.
I’ve started using this technique recently. This is my third week in the Focused Work Cycle. 3 more weeks and I’ll spend a week tying up loose ends. Then I’ll take a week off. I don’t know what I’ll do. But I’ll expose myself to new experiences.
Yes, the 6-1-1 technique is tougher in practice than on paper. Experiment with customizations and zero in on an optimal cycle. Just don’t make the cycle too long or too short.
Now, should you work till you drop dead in the Focused Work Cycle? Hell no!
What should you do then?
4. Finish Before Noon
Finish your most important tasks before noon each day, Sean Ogle suggests.
If you can, finish your most important tasks before 10 A.M.
Laughable? Yes. Impossible? No.
The first part of your day is the most constructive. It’s when your mind is fresh. Unfortunately, most people spend it rushing, or on their smartphones. Or they fritter it away in mindless tasks.
This time sets the tone for the rest of your day. Don’t squander it.
Wake up an hour early, while the world is still asleep. Instead of checking your phone, complete an important activity. Rather than reading the newspaper, get on with your task. When you reach office, don’t open your email first. Identify the most important task beforehand, and finish it. Watch how smoothly your day sails by after that.
I focus on completing at least four of my six daily tasks by 10 AM (email is not one of them). On good days, this generally extends to noon, but not beyond. I continue working for the rest of the day, and can afford to slack off towards the evening.
If you have a job, finishing important tasks before 10 A.M. (or even noon) is difficult. Meetings and other interruptions will consume you. But you can stop working hard after 3 PM. Unless you have a side project, don’t work in the evening. These self-imposed constraints will make you more productive. Your output will increase – in quality and quantity.
When your day is productive, you feel good about work. You can spend your evenings unwinding with family and friends, and doing what you enjoy. And since you’re exhausted, you’ll sleep early too. Thus, you consume less bullshit like TV, social media and the news. The less you consume, the more you create. The more you create, the happier you feel. Isn’t that amazing?
I’ve noticed something more in my life. Days when I have meetings, or when I meet friends are hyper-productive. My personal work gets done like clockwork before I step out. But when I have a lot of time at hand, work moves slower than dial up internet.
Wait. You do remember dial up internet, right?
What Are Your Choices?
You got the insider’s secret to unstoppable productivity. Now, you have two choices.
You can continue feeling this familiar tug of dissatisfaction about not doing what’s important, and not using your time meaningfully. You can spend the rest of your life wondering why you never have enough time. You can lie on your deathbed, filled with regret about the things you wanted to do, but didn’t.
Or, starting today, you can turn your life around. You can look forward to each day, expecting it to amazing. You can finish that day feeling happy and productive. You can give every moment, every person and every task, your best. You can do what makes you happy over and over again, and take control of your life.
You can reach new heights and become better than the person you imagined you could be. You can handle time like a pro; be its master instead of making it yours.
If you’ve read this article, the second option is a no-brainer. True, it takes a shift in mindset. This is tough in the beginning. But it’s not elusive. You just have to follow the techniques mentioned above to witness a tectonic change in your life.
You see, unlike money, time is the same for everyone. Rich and poor, successful and unsuccessful, go-getters and pseudo-victims, doers and procrastinators – every second, hour, and day is the same for them all.
What matters is how people use their time. It is today’s most valuable currency. You can use time to make money. But you cannot use money to buy time.
You had set your life goals for a reason. That reason and those goals are waiting patiently for you. But they will not wait forever.
So get your head in the game. Accomplish whatever you came on this earth for. Vow to change your life, no matter what anyone says. When you start, I’ll be among the few rooting for you. And when you achieve what you had set out to, I’ll be among the thousands (or millions) cheering.