5/05/2008

Get more done in less time using Parkinson's Law

Although we may not be all that familiar with Parkinson's law, we have experienced the law's principles every day of our lives. Parkinson's law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. We all remember those days in school when we would be up late night on the day before a large project was due. Even though we managed to procrastinate on most of the work, we somehow were able to complete all of the work in just the nick of time. Not only that, our last minute attempt at completing a project, more often then not, turned out pretty good considering the amount of time you took to do it.

Deadlines work to provide an end point to our procrastination. A deadline tells us that at some point in time, we will have to provide our finished work for evaluation. Once we are given a deadline, our mind goes through a series of thoughts. The first of those thoughts is likely to be, "I have three weeks to get this done, I can start on the project in a week and still have two weeks to finish all the details." A week and a half later we may be thinking, "o.k. so I am a few days behind on this project, I'll just put in extra hours for the next week and a half and finish it up." As time passes, things keep coming up that seem more urgent. Those distractions steal time away from what we really should be doing. Next thing you know, you are up late putting together your project just before the deadline.

Some of us might be thinking, "I do my best work under pressure, that's why I wait 'till the last minute...it works well for me." That may be true but the reason why you are able to complete the entire project in two days instead of the three weeks allotted, is because you were able to completely dedicate your focus to the project. The impending deadline was your primary motivator to get it done! After the deadline passed, you would be held accountable.

I have been thinking alot about the Parkinson's law lately, namely how I could leverage the intense focus one receives in the final hour. I asked myself "how can I complete my work ahead of the allotted time and still generate the same urgency of waiting until the last minute?"

The answer to my question came in the form of a simple kitchen timer. The timer, which cost me around .99 cents, can be set from 1 minute to 1 hour. It's one of the old fashioned wind up timer that ticks every second like a bomb ready to go off. Just the ticking alone lets me know that I only have a certain amount of time to do what I need to do. Best of all, the buzzer that goes off when time has run out is the most annoying sound ever. My goal is to finish my work before the timer goes off just so I don't have to hear it. When I use this timer my level of focus increases dramatically. I only have a set amount of time to do what I need to do, so there is no urge to surf the net. My mind also clears because it knows that I'm under a deadline. I do not have to contend with random thoughts of "I wonder if I should rearrange my underwear drawer right now?"

My advice to you is to go out and buy one of these timers and use it to get much more done in much less time. Once you begin to use it, try to beat the clock before the buzzer (kinda like a game show contestant solving a puzzle to win the big prize). Once you are done, congradulate yourself. Don't give your self too much time to complete a task because it will only cause you to slow yourself down to fill the allotted time. You also don't want to give yourself too little time so you don't become frustrated. Your goal should be to make the use of the timer as effective as possible so you are encouraged to use it every day.




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