“Do more with less” has become the mantra of today’s businesses. Sixty hour workweeks seem to be taking over. We complain about lack of time and manpower while more items stack up on our task lists. However, I remind you that necessity is the mother of invention. Allow me to introduce you to Parkinson’s Law and how we can embrace the pursuit of efficiency.
Work expands to the time allotted to it. This is Parkinson’s Law. It can be applied to single tasks, multi-step projects, or simply how we approach work. How have you experienced Parkinson’s Law in your own life?
In college, I knew from the beginning of the semester when papers would be due. I often left assignments to the last minute, but on one particular paper, I decided that I would start early.
Weeks before it was due, I collected sources and reviewed them. I developed an index card and color coding system for capturing useful information from the sources. My research was a marvel of organization. However, when I sat down to actually write the paper, I realized I had mere days left to craft it.
While I was busy preparing to write, the deadline had crept up on me. The work had expanded to fill the time I had allotted to it.
Anomalies of Efficiency – Last Minute Tasks and Getting Out the Door
While I did complete that paper, I also completed many others in much less time. True to my procrastination tendencies, I had proven that I could crank out papers overnight (literally). The time allotted in those instances was very little. The point, though, is that those papers were also completed and turned in.
Think back to the last time you went on vacation. Narrow in on the workdays just before you left. Was your pace more hurried than usual? Were you more focused on finishing the tasks in front of you?
If you’re like me and many others, those are some of your most productive and efficient days of work all year.
What can we learn from our most productive days to help us avoid the downsides of Parkinson’s Law?
1. On those days we have More Clarity. When we’re clear about what needs doing and what it will take to accomplish a task, we can attack it with commitment. In contrast, if the task is ambiguous, we second guess. We have to seek more information. This slows down our productive juices.
2. On those days we have More Focus. Something magical happens when you know a task has to get finished immediately. There is urgency. Your body’s sympathetic nervous system comes to life, which brings added focus with it. All of your attention gets directed to the task like a laser. You avoid distractions. You avoid frivolous endeavors like checking social media, email or making small talk with colleagues. You attack your task list like a machine because it stands between you and freedom – or a vacation.
3. On those days we put forth More Effort. Once we are clear on our objectives and have brought full attention to a single task, we can apply intense effort. Our physiology is already in gear and we work both smarter and harder. Our minds and bodies are rising to the occasion, meeting demands by applying our full arrays of skills, strengths and expertise. This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called flow or you may know it as the zone.
How do you gain more clarity, focus and effort everyday?
Less Time. That’s right; reduce the time allotted to complete a task. This forces you to apply more focus and effort to your clear objective. You don’t have time for “what if this” and “what if that.” You don’t have time for the illusion of multi-tasking. Shrinking your time-allotted will drive you to use the time you have most efficiently.
I’ve been using this strategy to focus my writing. I set a timer when I begin. So far, I’ve found that I am less distractible and more focused. InterestingIy, I believe I accomplish more in the short amount of time than I sometimes do in double the time.
We don’t have to run from “do more with less.” Get more done in less time by intentionally shrinking your allotted time for a task or project. This doesn’t have to come immediately before an imposed deadline. Set your own deadline and give yourself a buffer for the unexpected. The point is to increase your efficiency more consistently. Why should the workdays just before a vacation be the only ones that get your best effort?
Cut back your time on task to increase your clarity, focus and effort. You’ll accomplish more in less time. If you’re in a results-oriented company, you might even get to go home early.
Question: What is one thing to which you could apply the less-is-better strategy this week? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
- Book: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Post: How Can You Get Into The Zone More Consistently?
- Post: 8 Tips to Avoid Distraction and Boost Productivity
- Post: Multitasking Is Your Nemesis: Stop It