Over the past couple weeks we’ve been hit by what seems to be never-ending snow storms. I usually take my two daughters to the babysitter at least a couple times a week so that I can have some solitude to get work done.
However, my fear of driving on snow-covered roads has put that to a stop many times over the past month and a half. As of last week, the girls hadn’t been to the babysitter in nearly two weeks. Hit by another snow/ice storm Sunday I was reluctant to take the girls once again.
By Monday the roads were clear enough to drive on. The babysitter was out my way so she ended up swinging by and picking up the girls. She was going to take them shopping with her and then drop them back off later.
I assumed I would have somewhere between four to five hours to myself. I fiddled around for the first couple of hours trying to get the house in working order instead of focusing on the work. Then I sat down and started going at.
As I started planning out my work, the babysitter called and said they’d be back in about an hour. With several things still on my to-do list, I buckled down, eliminated distractions, and got straight to it. I was absolutely amazed how much work I had done.
Since I knew I was under a short time constraint, I ended up getting about three hours of normal work done in an hour — including sorting through and replying to the dozens of emails in my inbox!
It felt so good. It also reinforced my belief in Parkinson’s law: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” This means whether I had three hours or one hour, I would’ve gotten the same amount of work done.
To put Parkinson’s law into full effect, here’s what I’ve been doing. (You can use this for anything: staying up-to-date with your budget, getting work done, or cleaning the house.)
Work in Focused Blocks
Work-wise, February has been really good to me — which means I have a lot more to do. Surprisingly though, I’m still working the same number of hours (thank you, Parkinson’s law).
To increase the amount of work that I’m completing in the same amount of time, I’ve been working in blocks.
I simply turn on an online stopwatch and set it for 20 minutes. That entire 20 minutes I just work. If I write, I don’t edit. If I’m answering emails, I go right from one to the next until my inbox is empty. If I’m cleaning the house, I don’t take any breaks.
The key here is to focus on the task at hand without interruption for just a short period of time. You’ll be amazed at how much you get done when you know that you only have to a 20-minute slot.
Block All Distractions
For me, distractions are huge — especially when working from home.
I’ve been trying to clean up the house, or sit in the neatest room, so that I’m not focusing on picking up toys, dirty dishes, or the coloring books scattered over the table.
Another huge distraction of mine is the internet. I’ll click back forth from my word document to my email to a blog. Doing this takes my mind off the task at hand and literally triples the amount of time it takes me to get the important work done.
Now I’ve been starting the day without even opening up my browser. I do my most important work first, and then I’ll check my email.
When I work in my 20-minute blocks I minimize as many distractions as possible.
Always Start with the Hardest Task
To really make this rule effective I start with the hardest task first. I know that if I can use my 20-minute blocks to knock the hardest stuff out first, everything else will be a breeze.
Now, I don’t always get the hardest thing done in 20 minutes, but I do make major headway. Once the first one or two most important and least-favored things are done, everything else is a drop in the bucket.
Plus, by crossing the hardest thing off your list first, you’ll alleviate stress and have more motivation to power through everything else.
It’s hard to think that what you do could be done so much more efficiently until you’re put in that position. But really, it can.
If you’re used to working an eight-hour day, you’re going to try and make your work fill eight hours when it could probably be done in four. But when you’re only given four hours to work, you’ll most likely get everything completed.
Do you believe Parkinson’s law?