You may have heard the claim that if you give more work to the busiest person, they’ll get it done the fastest. Though we can’t generalize for every person, this is more or less true. I think about my schedule in college—how I juggled socializing, hundreds of pages of reading, writing my capstone, studying for exams, preparing meals, playing racquetball, and attending club events daily.
Then, everything changed. Living at home in a pandemic meant I had no other activities besides my abridged classes and lightened workload. In fact, I only had one Zoom class a week. I noticed that my assignments, no matter how small, would expand to fit the whole morning and often the entire day. At school, I got my massive activity load done in an appropriate amount of time. So why was I struggling so now?
Parkinson’s Law states that a given assignment or task will fill the time you allow it. If you have all day to complete a reading, chances are that you’ll be working on it for that long. If you’re in a time crunch, you’ll get it done lickety-split.
So how do we simulate a time crunch if a “real” deadline does not exist?
There are a few methods we can try to reclaim your productivity, especially when working from home without a structure.
1. The Pomodoro Method: If you’ve been on the internet recently, you’ve probably heard of this time management method. The basics of it are that you work in 25-minute increments dubbed “pomodoros,” taking 5-minute mental breaks for every 25-minute stretch. When you complete a task, you take a 15-minute break before starting the next pomodoro. Though coined by Francesco Cirillo in the ‘80s, this method has been widely adopted by hundreds of websites and apps.
I used this method while writing this blog. I find it helpful to challenge myself to get work done within a pre-set time. By turning work into a game, I complete tasks at a faster clip. There’s also the promise of relief from the open-ended work. When that pomodoro beeps the final time, you’re done with that task for the day. It’s over.
2. Reward Yourself: This one is a bit trickier to manage because you must stick to your constitution, but when you get tasks done, you can reward yourself by going for a walk, calling a friend, reading that shiny new novel on your shelf, or checking social media (briefly). You can also indulge in video games with friends or eat your favorite snacks. It helps to have other friends involved, too! When you’re all working towards a common goal (staying on top of tasks during the day), comradery is built. This is tough, but if you don’t deliver, hold yourself accountable.
3. Change Your Mental Approach: Why are we more likely to break our own deadlines than an authority figure or boss’s deadline? It’s critical to remember that when tasks are spread out over a whole day, you’re the one at a loss, not your boss. It’s your precious time and life. But the good thing is that you can reclaim it whenever you please. Hold a firm pulse on your work by getting it done in a timely manner so that you can enjoy working out, making a nice meal, or meeting friends without worrying about your responsibilities!
So, how do we reclaim our time by rewiring our heads? It’s long been proven that the way we talk to ourselves greatly impacts our performance. When you choose to sit down and work, saying motivating things aloud like, “I’ve got this.” You'll boost productivity and brighten your mental landscape. Similarly, talking or thinking negatively about yourself works in the opposite way. It’s always been a mental game, so don't make work harder for yourself by giving in to your negative thoughts.
4. Make Your Deadlines a Reality: Don’t just talk about getting work done, BE about getting work done. Set up a bunch of reminders to meet deadlines and get your day back on track. Make it a game to check off those boxes and make the annoying notifications go away. There are a thousand tips, tricks, and hacks claiming that they will change your life, but it’s all about having the willpower to accomplish your goals.
You can install apps like SelfControl that restrict the websites you visit for up to 24 hours. It’s perfect for exams or time-sensitive work, but the most important thing is to be on top of yourself. If you catch your attention drifting, make a conscious decision to get back on your workhorse. If you give up on focusing just because you slipped up and started looking through Instagram, bring your attention back to the task at hand. It isn’t an all-or-nothing battle. Be kind to yourself.
Best of luck to you as you best Parkinson’s Law in your own private duels. You are the master of your destiny. Go forth into the world and surprise everyone with your grip on the most fleeing resource of all— time.
Photo Credit: Photo by Cliff Johnson on UnSplash.