Why do large projects feel so overwhelming? Lots of reasons. And most often, the science of behavior explains why. Science helps us understand our unproductive tendencies, but can we implement methods to reverse these behaviors? How do we transform ourselves into productivity machines? Years of observation and attempts at measuring productivity leave us with some tried and true laws to do just that.
Parkinsons Law states that the time to complete a task equals the amount of time provided to complete the task. Initially, it targeted large government bureaucracies and the enormous waste involved. But a lot of us can relate to this problem in our work and everyday lives. If I need to submit an analytics report by the end of the day on Friday then I wait until Friday morning to do it. Since it only takes me a few hours to do, no point in starting early. Too often we underestimate the amount of time required and we get left with an overdue project, especially when the project involves several other people. Not only that, but if we have a week to complete a project that only takes a couple days, we end up wasting all that extra time on menial and unproductive tasks. We spend wasted time on Facebook or answering low priority emails in our inbox. In fact, research shows that our brain loves doing mindless work even if productivity escapes us. A rough truth to swallow sometimes, right? The brain increases the perceived complexity of a task as more time is allotted to completing it. Give a week to complete a relatively easy task and the brain layers additional complexity onto the task. Why add all that stress and a week worth of unnecessary work?
How do we counter Parkinsons Law to create more effective work habits? To start, Set your own deadlines rather than allowing them to be dictated by your surroundings. Set strict parameters on when you complete tasks and set daily deadlines for yourself. Utilize time blocking to help you put intensive focus into completing your task in a defined period of time. This brings us to a corollary of the Parkinsons Law.
2. Stock-Sanford Corollary
If you wait until the last minute to do a task, it only takes a minute to do. The Stock-Sanford Corollary hits on an important concept often used in agile methodologies called “just good enough.” If the ultimate goal is productivity, then abandon your perfectionism and do work that is good enough so that you can move on to other things. Then do those other things good enough. A lot of good enough, completed work smells like a winning recipe over a single perfected work-in-progress. Your work-in-progress will never be perfect anyway. There are many ways to fight the Parkinsons Law and utilize the Stock-Sanford Corollary to your advantage. Create urgency for yourself. Plan the amount of time you think a task will actually take and .
3. The Zeigarnik Effect
The Zeigarnik Effect essentially says that the best way to complete a task is to simply get started. Easy right? Starting a project can often be the most difficult part, but take solace knowing that the simple act of starting a project will free your mind of stress and reduce the amount of willpower required to maintain productive habits. There are several productivity techniques you can use to take full advantage of the Zeigarnik Effect.
- Time block your day.
- Create prioritized task lists.
- Set calendar reminders.
- Break projects into tiny component tasks.
Keep in mind, like the Parkinsons Law, setting strict deadlines and breaking large projects into smaller components helps kick you into gear and gets your project started. For more info about the Zeigarnik effect and productivity science, check out Sparring Mind .
4. The Martini Method
Rewarding yourself for good behavior reinforces that behavior and helps build better habits. The Martini Method uses rewards to create more productive habits. A core tenant of the Martini Method requires that you break down large projects into smaller chunks that fit within defined time blocks in your schedule. You then reward yourself for completing these smaller chunks of work. Psychologically, it allows for more intensive periods of productive work because that proverbial carrot is set dangling in front of you. It enhances the perceived value of that chunk of work and the time that you invest in completing it. Some of the most productive leaders reward themselves regularly throughout the day as they complete tasks and achieve milestones. Writing concepts out on paper just to get them “started” provided Pixar with multitudes of innovative ideas. See more about Pixar here .
5. Pomodoro Technique
Task batching allows you to accomplish similar tasks in the most productive way possible. Just like an assembly line, when you batch similar tasks together, you access a rhythm and cadence in your work that allows you to blow through tasks much more quickly. Additionally, it prevents you from falling into multi-tasking which has been shown to reduce productivity. The Pomodoro Technique works as follows:
- Prioritize tasks that need to be completed in writing.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and complete all similar tasks within that short time period. Large tasks would be broken across multiple 25 minute instances.
- This 25 minute block of time is called a Pomodoro. When you finish your 25 minute instance, mark an X next to that Pomodoro and write down how many times you were distracted.
- Do 4 Pomodoros and then take a 20 minute break.
The Pomodoro technique takes advantage of the Martini Method in some ways by offering regular break periods for completing Pomodoros. Additionally, it takes advantage of our regular work rhythm and adds urgency by using a timer.
Mastering a productive lifestyle requires an enormous amount of work, but start building good habits by following these five laws of productivity.
Which one of these laws are you going to start using today?