The Productivity Problem
“I have no time.”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard and even said that statement… Let’s just say Bill Gates would be second on that Forbes billionaire list.
Why is it that some of us struggle to find time to catch our breaths when we have to go to work or school AND go to the gym. Yet people like Gary Vaynerchuk and Elon Musk run multiple companies, work out, have families, sleep, and still seem to keep getting more and more done? Do they just have more time? No, how could they? We all have 24 hours in a day. But the secret they have is that they know how to be productive.
If we can learn to be more productive, we can get more done in less time. We could finally pursue that passion or learn that new skill while not sacrificing our other duties. This can lead to significant growth.
Did you just say growth? Tell me more.
If you’ve ever been a student who has had a paper to write for about a month but didn’t begin that paper until the day before it’s due… and still got it done… then you know exactly what Parkinson’s Law is.
Parkinson’s Law states that any task will expand so as to fill the available time for it’s completion. A task that has been given the timeframe of a month will be completed in a month. If that same task were given the timeframe of week, it will be completed in a week.
This works because of another rule called The Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule. The Pareto Principle states that, for most events, 80% of the effects come from only 20% of the causes. This principle was named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He noticed that in his garden, 80% of his overall peas came from a mere 20% of the pods. He then did a study and noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the Italian population. This principle is a phenomenon that occurs in all walks of life. In the distribution of world GDP, the top 20% of the population contribute to over 80% of the world’s income. Of course it’s not always 80/20. It’s sometimes 90/10 or even 90/20. But the point is that usually, the majority of the effect comes from a small minority of the causes.
So how does this relate to Parkinson’s Law? Well, in any task that we do, it is likely that we could have done almost or just as good a job by eliminating 80% of the subtasks and concentrating on that crucial 20%. Humans are actually subconsciously good at this. When we have less time to complete a task, we tend to cut out the less crucial subtasks and concentrate more on the crucial ones. But if we have enough time, we will be more likely to put effort into unimportant subtasks. This is the reason some college students can crank out a monthlong paper in a single all-nighter. This is the reason high performers seem to get so much done in so little time.
So how can you use Parkinson’s Law to become more productive?
Well the first step is to realize that Parkinson’s Law is true! If you have a lot to do and have no idea how you will get all of it done, remember this: If you can allocate time to it, then you can get it done! So that’s all you need to do. Allocate time to it, even if the time allocated seems unrealistic. So if you have 5 tasks to do tomorrow, simply plan your day in advance and allocate a block of time to each task.
That brings me to my next point.
Create a Schedule
Your head is a terrible office. It’s disorganized and contains way too much information. Storing important time sensitive things in your head all the time is a sure way to not get important time sensitive things done. So take things out of your head and put them onto paper.
The act of writing (or typing) something raises the importance of that thing in your brain. That is because or brains determine importance of an idea based on the frequency with which we are exposed to that idea as well as the variety of ways in which we are exposed to the idea. For example, we are less likely to remember something if we only read it, as opposed to if we read it, hear it, write it and do it. The more senses and more activity associated with an idea, the more important it becomes. So writing something down involves the action of writing and the sense of seeing in addition to simply thinking about it. This raises it’s priority in our minds.
Putting things to paper also creates headspace. Having to remember a million things at the same time creates pressure and anxiety. It uses energy that can be better spent on actually doing a task and it takes our attention away from the tasks we are doing, making it hard to concentrate. So putting things on paper means we don’t have to store them in our heads so we have more brain power to concentrate on actually doing the tasks. It also means we have a lower risk of forgetting tasks.
So if you have important things to get done write them down. But more importantly, schedule them.
Studies show that having a concrete timeline for a task drastically increases the likeliness of it being completed. So plan your days in advance. Determine all the things you’d like to get done and allocate blocks of time to each task. Make sure that you are only scheduling one task at a time. Do not multitask.
This is crucial to productivity. Schedule your tasks and write it down. Then…
So in order to be productive, we need to use the Pareto Principle, Parkinson’s Law and written schedules to our advantage. Here’s the process:
- Prioritize the tasks. Put the most important tasks and subtasks first. Use the Pareto Principle to analyze the crucial 20% of tasks that will yield 80% of the desired results. Prioritize those tasks.
- Ignore the complexity. If your tasks seem extremely complex or daunting, remember Parkinson’s Law. The complexity doesn’t matter much. So there’s no pressure. Simply concentrate on time allocation right now. Don’t worry about your future self. They’ll get it done 🙂
- Make a written schedule. Plan your day/week and allocate blocks of time to each task. Make sure you write this down.
- Remove Distractions. It takes about 17 minutes on average for our brains to regain complete focus on a task after switching focus. So if we want to focus on a task, we need to make sure that the block of time that we have scheduled for it is uninterrupted.
- Start. Your schedule may seem daunting but try to only concentrate on where you are in this moment. Cover the rest of your schedule and zoom into what you need to do now. Then simply start. Remember that motivation is bred from action.
I really hope this post provides a little insight in how to be more productive, creating room for you to grow. When I follow this process, I find that I am 10x more productive than I usually am. I hope you experience similar results.
May you lead a productive life 🙂