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If You Want To Be More Productive, You Need To Stop Work From Expanding

If You Want To Be More Productive, You Need To Stop Work From Expanding

Have you ever decided to refresh your resume, only to see what should be a 30-minute job take weeks? Believe it or not, this has little to do with the nature of the challenge itself, but more your outlook and the amount of time that you allow for completion.

In this post, we will talk about the importance of mind-set and how you can become more productive when completing non time-sensitive tasks.

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Parkinson’s Law: work expands when your give it too much time

The key to improving your productivity and avoiding procrastination is to understand Parkinson’s Law, which is an old adage which declares that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. It is a psychological principle that has inspired numerous studies and pieces of literature, and one that underlines the potential dangers of setting arbitrary time-frames that have little or no bearing on the task in hand.

In practical terms (and expanding our previous example), this means that you may allow yourself a week to complete the task of editing your resume. This is despite the fact that the majority of the required information is already included in the document, while tasks such as refreshing dates and proof-reading should not be particularly consuming.

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Of course, you may set the arbitrary deadline of a week in order to alleviate any pressure that you are feeling, or simply because you need to submit a job application at this time. Affording yourself this unnecessary amount of time is actually counter-productive from a psychological perspective, however, as this increases the perceived complexity of the task and makes it seem more daunting. As the work expands to fill the time allotted, the task becomes harder to complete and in some instances this may even have a detrimental impact on the quality of your input.

Set time box for your every task

The main principle of this law is that the work expands to fill the allotted time, so the establishment of time limits and deadlines is the most effective. This is a process that must starts before tasks are started, as you analyse the requirements of each one and determine a reasonable (but time-frame for completion. As prominent life coach Karen Strunks says,[1] you need to be proactive and determine precisely how long individuals tasks are going, as “if you allow yourself two hours for a task, it will take two hours”.

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This is an important mantra to remember, and in practical terms it should encourage you to establish clearly defined time boxes for every task that you have to do each day.[2] This will help you to instantly accomplish more within a shorter space of time, making your more organised and productive as a result. If you find that some projects are too large to complete within the predetermined time-frame, you should compartmentalise these into smaller tasks that are allotted their own time box.

When it comes to time-management, we have a tendency to allow more time than in necessary to complete relatively simply tasks. There are numerous potential reasons for this, but Parkinson’s Law suggests that this causes the work to expand and fill the allotted time, becoming more complicated and unmanageable as a result.

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Understanding this is the first step to becoming more productive, however, as from here you can be more tenacious when setting time boxes for specific tasks and allow yourself to accomplish more within a short space of time. With this in mind, who knows what more you can achieve in your everyday life simply by adhering to a simple, but often overlooked, psychological principle.

Reference

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

Reference

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