Back in April, my husband and I did something rather significantly out of character. We planned a weekend trip for our family in one afternoon.
Now, when it comes to vacations, we’re usually big planners! We weigh our destination options, flip through hotel reviews, make spreadsheets of possible activities . . . it’s a job unto itself.
But, in a single afternoon, we planned from start to finish an overnight trip for our family. We booked a hotel, purchased tickets to a theme park, found some good places to eat, and more. We packed up that evening and headed out the very next day with our slightly confused but enthusiastic two-year-old.
And it was fun!
The success of our little last-minute adventure is a perfect illustration of a fascinating concept known as Parkinson’s Law.
In a 1955 essay published in The Economist, author Cyril Northcote Parkinson described what is now famously referred to as Parkinson’s Law. It states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Take that in for a second.
Parkinson’s Law contends that the more time you have to accomplish something, the longer it will take. If we had a month to plan that spontaneous trip of ours, you bet that it would have taken us that long.
So . . . how can you use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage in becoming insanely productive?
Start with a plan.
One reason that a big project takes forever to complete is that you’re not sure how to bridge the chasm between where you are and where you want to be. Your project is an amorphous idea rather than a series of understandable tasks.
And you can’t power through a project if you’re constantly reassessing your game plan. You want to be able to move rapidly and confidently from one task to the next without spinning your wheels or heading in the wrong direction.
So start by creating a specific series of action steps you must take to reach the finish line.
Define what it means to be “finished.”
Not knowing when to stop is frequently what keeps us working unceasingly on a project, despite diminishing returns.
So it’s critical that you define when “being finished” means for any given task. Does it need to be absolutely perfect? Good enough? (What does good enough look like here?)
Be specific in your goal so you can clearly identify when it’s time to stop working and check that action item off your list.Not knowing when to stop is frequently what keeps us working unceasingly on a project, despite diminishing returns.Click To Tweet
Create an artificial deadline for yourself . . . and make it slightly uncomfortable.
Here’s where the magic happens. You create a sense of urgency, even if there is no actual necessity to finish quickly.
Take a look at the first task you plan to tackle and give yourself a time limit. And don’t pick a number out of the air either. Instead, follow these two guidelines:
First, choose a time that challenges you a bit.
Remember that you want to feel inspired to be focused and productive. You don’t want to feel wildly stressed about an entirely unreasonable deadline.
At the same time, you’re purposely setting yourself up for a race against the clock. So assign your task a tight timeframe that doesn’t allow you to procrastinate.
Second, give yourself an amount of time that reflects the importance of the task.
Remember the 80-20 Rule? It says that only 20% of your results come from 80% of your efforts. So identify the low-value activities that are typically time-suckers, and force yourself to minimize the number of minutes you’ll spend on those.
Ready . . . set . . . go!
Set the clock and get started! Adopt a mindset of laser focus. (This is not the time to multitask!)
You’ll find as you go along that — because of your artificially imposed deadline — you’ll naturally . . .
- Get creative in finding ways to get everything done in the time allotted.
- Make decisions about whether certain elements of your task should be diminished or eradicated.
- Avoid procrastination and time-wasters.
Time’s up! Pencils down!
If you completed your task in your designated time frame, congratulations! Take a moment to savor what you’ve accomplished!
If you didn’t get where you needed to be, you’ve spent your time well — being super-productive and getting a better sense of how to estimate the time you need to complete your tasks.
Regardless of the outcome, reward yourself! Don’t be tempted to jump immediately into another project at a breakneck pace. (Stringing together a long series of rapidly moving activities is a great way to hit burnout.)
After all, the goal of productivity is to get done the things you need to do efficiently so that you can have and enjoy free time! So take a break, savor the moment, and then get moving again!
What have you completed faster than you could have imagined by imposing a time limit on yourself?