I live under the motto that if you measure it you will manage it. And, when it comes to control of your own time and making sure you don’t fall pray to Parkinson’s Law, the piece to confront is whether you work best through commitments to yourself or you need motivation when it comes to change.
What I mean by this is a subset of the Sandler System. The truth of decision making is that no one can decide for you, you must decide for yourself whether you will commit to a decision. Typically, the easiest way to see the value of a decision is to associate it with the current pain or negative aspects of the situation in the status quo. We talk about pain because we are more influenced by the pain associated with our actions than the potential benefits that sit in the future. Once we’ve determined to move forward, we must commit to owning the management of the data.
When it comes to time blocking there are a few key factors we need to make an upfront commitment about that will not waiver and there are several other concepts we should be aware of in order to guarantee our success.
1. Your Time Blocks Must be Precious
Often when people try time blocking for the first time they fall into the same trap that drove them to time blocking in the first place. They were so continuously busy that they needed to add a committed time in their schedule to focus on designated tasks that were primary. In doing so, and over time, they gradually found that they were so busy that they could not afford to spend the time on the blocked activity.
This is the cycle that we perpetuate. We see our busyness and commit to being busy and sacrifice our attempts to get ahead. If you are to time block successfully then you must see your time blocks as precious. They are not to be tampered with and they are not to be treated as unimportant. The second we allow ourselves to perform other activities at a time when we have blocked out a commitment is the moment we guarantee we will no longer do the activity regularly.
2. Understand and Value the Importance of Deadlines
Time blocking creates an artificial deadline which, if we take it seriously, will motivate us to work toward completion rather than perfection. If we think about the reality of Parkinson’s Law, we can see the truth in the statement, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” And thinking of its counterpoint, this also means that we will find ourselves amazed and wowed by the amount of work that we can accomplish when we are up against an impending deadline.
In short, deadlines motivate and drive us to imagine completion rather than continuation. The difference between I must have this finished by the end of the hour and I will finish this by the end of the week will have a lasting impact on the amount of time spent working and thinking about the activity. It is much better to commit to focused time spent toward completion than general time spent on the activity. If we allow ourselves to simply work on things they will fall under Parkinson’s Law and continue to expand until the deadline, so why shouldn’t we control the deadline to perform and increase our productivity?
3. Know How to Manage Your Habits
We are familiar with the excuses that we make and the bad habits we create. Often people know where their issues are and struggle daily against the problem that they’ve allowed to come into existence. On the personal, for instance, if you have to set multiple alarms because you have a habit of snoozing through the opportune moments to wake up, what sort of solutions could there be?
Sometimes, when problem solving, we need to look previous to the issue and not focus on the moment of the issue as the place for the solution. In this instance, it is not an adjustment of the morning, but an adjustment of the night. Rather than having our phones on our night stands, we could move it to across the room so that we complicate the process of snoozing and force ourselves onto our feet. Would this lead to a better outcome? Maybe, the point is that solutions are not always going to be at the moment of the issue. Instead we need to own a comprehensive vision of the situation in order to ascertain and create the solution and outcome which guarantees our success.
4. Touch it Once
We’ve all heard this suggestion, the idea being that upon contact with new information we should execute on it. That as soon as something gets your attention, you should finish it. But, the touch it once strategy can have a fair amount of nuance and depth in saving time and in order to execute this strategy successfully we need to determine the correct way to touch it.
We have our options, we can plan for a solution, delegate a resolution, or complete the required actions necessary to move forward. The important aspect of this is understanding the time commitment relative to the solution. Ideally, we can complete the required actions in a minimal amount of time, but we must consider that the best use of our time is a planned course of action that allows us to give our full focus or a delegation of the requisite action that keeps us moving forward instead of halting our momentum.
5. Hardest Tasks First
We are all children in adult bodies, and even thinking about dinner, it would be easy to start with dessert first. If we do that, though, we sabotage the nutrients that we need and have no incentive to finish toward an objective with the reward removed and consumed at the onset. It is necessary to plan your day with the hardest tasks first in order to ensure that you complete the tasks which you are naturally resistant to.
By doing this we allow ourselves to recharge energy throughout the day as we get to tasks that revitalize us and build out our energy as opposed to draining it. It is best to use the energy we start with to build momentum and topple over the harder tasks that are necessary for us to finish our daily objectives. Once we finish what is difficult, we build back that energy completing tasks that are more enjoyable for us. It is the pie at the end of the meal that tops off the experience, not the beginning, which can ruin our appetite.
6. Don’t Confuse Urgency with Importance
You need to remember this for yourself as well as your interactions with other individuals. Too often we get rushed to more and more tasks to complete by urgency of individuals who have a fair amount of anxiety about the future and the completion of the task. This can get into the way of dealing with our work that is important. What we do continually is an important task and when we allow urgency to take precedent over importance we sabotage our actual work requirements in favor of a false sense of peace and resolution.
There are a lot of individuals, like myself, who will feel urgency toward all tasks that come in front of them. Distinguishing between what is urgent and what is important is not only necessary for us, but it is an important piece to communicate with our team as we go about delegating off of our touch it once strategy. If it is not important enough for us to complete it immediately, then we should not send off the task with language that emulates panic and urgency. We are more profitable and more aware of our roles and what completion looks like when we understand the distinction between urgency and importance and remind ourselves daily by keeping that distinction top of mind.
7. Don’t Multi-task
The worst aspect of Parkinson’s Law is that it compounds with the habit of multi-tasking. If we see an activity as something with a deadline then we will work with the deadline in mind and finish the task in the allotted time available. If, however, we do not have an exact deadline, but instead a floating one (intangible, ungrounded), then we will couple the activity with our daily activities and end up sabotaging all.
Multi-tasking is a skill that should be left to machines which can do processes in the background while maintaining a surface view of actual work. Humans are typically far inferior when it comes to multi-tasking. We alt-tab and distract ourselves from our work output and inevitably increase the amount of time it takes to accomplish all activities rather than focusing on a singular piece that will lead to completion of a task. We must associate that completion with success and understand that the more we pile up on our plates, the less likely multi-tasking will help us achieve a smaller pile.
In truth, if we time block effectively and commit to making adjustments and ignoring the urgency we feel in pursuit of the importance of what we do, then we build a roadmap for success. That roadmap is completely dependent on our willingness to commit to a strategy, which, though uncomfortable, may ultimately push us to a new tier of success and execution. The anxiety about the future can be forestalled by a commitment to get a handle on the present. Urgency is a default state of being for someone who is pessimistic and finds themselves always battling against the status quo in the present, as opposed to working to change the status quo and activate the future.
If you’re interested in a conversation about how you and your management team might fight against Parkinson’s Law collectively, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to share this article with others that you know and together lets dismantle the floating deadlines that constantly have us using more time to do less.