Frustrating, isn’t it?
On the other end of the spectrum are people who do everything you aspire — the achievers.
While you feel stuck in the same place, achievers keep moving forward. While your existing work never ends, achievers keep starting (and finishing) new projects. Yet, they always have more time than you.
On paper, it should be the other way round, right?
But we don’t live on paper.
We live in the real world. In this world, achievers don’t do different things, just the same things differently. Two traits that set them apart from the rest are:
- A secret that’s known only inside the circle of productive people.
I’ve shared how you can build sustainable self-discipline in this post.
Today, I’ll share the insider’s secret about productivity with you, and how you can use it to do things that change the trajectory of your life.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson worked in the British Civil Service in the 1950s. He experienced firsthand why bureaucracy was (and still is) inefficient and hopeless.
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
In other words, the more time we allot to a task, the longer it takes.
If we allot four days for a task we can complete in four hours, we’ll spend four days on it.
This is not because we suddenly have a lot more to do in the same task. It’s because we procrastinate, add more work to our plate, and become complacent.
The outcomes are terrible. Deadlines pile up like old clothes until everything comes up at the same time. Or, right when we begin to work on an important task at the scheduled time, something urgent comes up.
The result is anxiety and stress levels that blow through the roof. These negative feelings restrict us from approaching a problem logically. Forget thinking outside the box, these conditions make us too blind to even see the box.
We somehow complete the task but have a gnawing feeling that we could’ve done much better. Or we miss the deadline and extend it further. Though we get ample time, we don’t do justice to the task.
Sure, we get by. But is this how you want to live your entire life?
You don’t have to. You can “hack” Parkinson’s Law instead of letting it hold you ransom. You can turn productive in the true sense: you can do what’s important without sacrificing things that matter along the way.
How to “Hack” Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law holds true for all of us. But the opposite holds true as well.
Work contracts so as to fill the available space for its completion.
In other words, if you only have four hours for a task that you realistically need four days to complete, you’ll complete the task within four hours.
Think about the time when a tight deadline loomed overhead. You blocked out the world, applied yourself to the task and completed it. And you felt awesome about yourself.
You can turn this awesome feeling into a habit. You just have to do one thing — embrace constraints.
Wait a minute! Constraints mean restrictions. Won’t they “restrict” my quality of work? I mean geez Vishal, you’re a walking-talking contradiction!
Now that you’re done with your admonishment, let’s face the truth.
Creativity doesn’t blossom in complete freedom. Improvement doesn’t occur in a vacuum. That kind of emptiness only leads to chaos. People fail to separate sensible ideas from the senseless ones and run around like headless chickens.
The 1958 Edsel Corsair is an example of creativity that emerges from complete freedom.
Constraints keep you focused on what’s important. They ensure you don’t sacrifice an important element in the pursuit of everything else.
Successful people and companies don’t just work within constraints. They impose constraints on themselves and their people to enhance their output.
Warren Buffett uses constraints like the 20-slot rule to think carefully before each investment. The result is his net worth of over $87 billion.
Tim Ferriss drastically slashed the time he spent on checking email. He set up systems and processes so strong that he sometimes goes for weeks without checking email. Imagine how much times he has for important activities! (Seriously… NO email!)
Toyota set goals that conflicted with each other to build the Lexus LS400. It outclassed the BMW 735i and Mercedes 420SEL in every category.
Create restraints. No restrictions make you work like a tortoise. — Scott Belsky
People don’t apply constraints after they’re successful. They doggedly adhere to constraints to become successful in the first place.
The Constraint That Doubled My Productivity
To apply the reverse of Parkinson’s Law, I decided to fight the clock. I halved my deadlines for important tasks.
Here’s an example.
Last month, a prospect asked me for a proposal in form of a presentation that she would show her CEO.
The usual me would ask for a realistic time of three days and leave this presentation for the last minute. But in most instances, something else would get in the way. As a result, I would either make me compromise on the quality of the presentation or delay sending it by a week.
Neither were signs of professionalism.
So I stretched myself. I promised to send the presentation by the same evening. I gave myself an hour to prepare it from scratch but ended up extending by 30 minutes. My partner gave some inputs, adding which took another 20 minutes. And Voila! Within two hours, I had sent the prospect a compelling presentation that landed us the deal.
I’ll admit. Halfing a deadline sounds outrageous. But applying this constraint has made me smarter and sharper. Here’s how.
I prioritize better. Super tight deadlines force me to work more tasks that will help me achieve my goal. This makes me mindful about choosing tasks and working more on ones that rank high on the priority list.
I can say no. I’ve stopped saying yes to everything that demands my attention at the moment. I focus on what’s important and can say no to most tasks that pull me away from my goals.
I’ve created processes. To improve by 5 or 10 percent, you just have to work harder. But to improve by 25 percent, you must change the way you function. Halfing deadlines have pushed me to design and apply processes that make me quicker.
I’ve eliminated distractions. While working on deep tasks, I put my phone away and turn off social media. I check email just thrice each day. I’ve gone to the extent of visualizing during meditation how boring distractions are and how much fun deep work is. This has paid off well because, with time, my mind got trained to avoid succumbing to distractions.
To be honest, you will not complete your work in half the time. But when you apply constraints, you’ll eventually reduce your time spent on tasks by up to 40 percent.
Imagine what you can do with 40 percent more time!
Productivity doesn’t just make you a smarter worker. It also makes you a better person.
When you escape from doing what you promised yourself, your self-esteem takes a beating.
When you do what you promised yourself, your self-esteem gets a shot in the arm. You begin to back yourself to bring results. When you don’t see results, you do deeper to learn how to make things work instead of complaining about how unfair the world is.
This moment is all you have. Make the most of it. Use it to make yourself the person you’ll be proud in the next moment. You owe yourself that much.