One thing that many people forget about is that they are the ones in control over their time. They assume there are just not enough hours in the day to get all their work done and they feel overwhelmed when projects come due at the last minute. But with the right amount of focus and good time management techniques, you can easily learn how to take control of your time and get things done on schedule.
Parkinson’s Law is the idea that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. This simply means that the amount of time that you provide to yourself to finish a task is the exact amount of time that it takes to complete it. So, if you get three weeks to write an essay, then it takes that full three weeks to get it done. If you have a week to get the project done, then it will be done in a week.
While there are some exceptions to this (you can’t finish a 100 word document in an hour), the idea is that you can get the work done in the amount of time that is necessary. This is why it may take you three weeks to write an essay, but if you were given only a week, you would still be able to get it done in time.
If you set the timeline out too far, or make the goal too distant, it will take you that much time to get it accomplished. It does not matter how far out you set it, it will still take that long to get it all accomplished. If you want to make sure you get your work done in a timely manner, rather than at the last minute, then set the timeline sooner. Even if the deadline is three weeks, make your own goal to get it done in a week and see what a difference it makes. You may be surprised at how quickly you can get that project done!
The Pomodoro Technique is a good option to use if you need help staying focused on a task. If you find that small distractions get in your way, you often have to work past the point of being optimally productive, and you have open-ended work that could take an unlimited amount of time such as studying for an exam, then this technique can help you stay focused and get things done.
The basic idea is that you will set short bursts of time that you get work done. With the help of a timer, you get to work and try to accomplish as much as possible during that time. When the timer is done, you take a break. This lets you know that you have small bursts of time that you really focus, but then you will get a break, which may help you be more focused and get more done.
The core of this method is to work in 25-minute sprints. You can break down some smaller items into the same sprint if necessary and if they are small. And if you finish a project, then go ahead and work on the next thing on your to-do list. Never finish within the 25-minutes and then start to check your emails and get distracted. You can do that later but as long as the timer is ticking, you need to get work done. Using this method is simple. It allows for working time and for
some good breaks to give yourself a little rest.
To work with this method:
Get a to-do list and a timer. Fill out a list of the tasks that you need to get finished with the most important stuff on top.
Set the timer for 25 minutes and then focus on a single task until the timer rings. Some bigger tasks may need a few of these 25 minute sprints to get done, but the point is to work on one thing at a time. If you have smaller tasks, group those together and do them in one sprint.
When the session is done, mark off one Pomodoro and then record what is done.
Take a quick break to stretch and move around when that is done.
When you have completed four of these cycles, it is time to take a break. Give yourself 15 to 30 minutes to move around and rest after all that hard work!
With these short bursts of intense concentration and focus, you will find you can get a lot more done. This short of a time period does not seem like much, but it can add up quickly and give you a chance to get ahead on your work.
Make sure to remember to take those breaks as you go along. It is easy to want to go full steam ahead and work more and more. And that is admirable that you want to get the work done. You may even be able to do a few sprints like this without the breaks. But this method is meant to help you get some intense focusing going on and your brain will need a break. Even half an hour after a few hours of hard work can make a world of difference.
Eat the Frog
Another method that you can use to help you get through all the work you need to accomplish during the day is known as Eat the Frog. This idea is that you will work on the most important task first and get it done right away in the morning. If it’s your job in the morning to eat a frog, then you should do it in the morning so it does not hang over your head all day. If you need to eat two frogs (or have two major things to get done during the day), then you
should eat the biggest one first.
The idea here is not to just do the one task and then call it good for the rest of the day. But focusing on that one big task that needs to get done can help free your mind up. You do not have that big project pulling on your attention all day because that is the thing you focus on first. Once it is done, you have all that free focus to do to other things. Plus, when you do the big thing first, the other smaller things seem easier and faster to do.
To use the Eat the Frog method, each morning you will:
Identify your frog: This is going to be the task that is the hardest or the most important for the day.
Eat it: This means that you get to work and get that task done right away. Do not put it off and try to do it later.
Repeat it: Each day you will find the frog and then eat it right away.
Once you are done with that big task, you can work on some of the other tasks that you need to accomplish. But with that big task done, you no longer need to worry about it hanging over you or getting put off until the last minute.
This method may seem to have a weird name, but the idea is the same. You need to get the thing that is the hardest or the least enjoyable done right away in the morning. This way it is not hovering over you all day long. You can get it done and feel a sense of relief while you focus on getting all the other work done.
Single Tasking vs. Multitasking: Which Is Better?
All of the methods we discus above ask you to do one task at a time. It does not matter how many tasks you need to get done, they all ask you to pick one at a time and focus on that until it is done. When that task is completed, you can move on to the next one and then the next one and so on.
This is because single tasking is often the best choice. We often assume that if we are doing a lot of tasks at once that we are being more efficient. This is wrong. Multitasking often causes us to be more distracted and struggle with focus. We also do not complete tasks very well when we try to do a bunch of them.
With single tasking, we only focus on one thing at a time, avoiding all of the distractions from the other tasks that may get in our way. We can also do a better job on the one task because we focus all of our attention on it until it is done, rather than splitting up our attention against two or more tasks. This often leads us to getting the work done faster too.
While it may seem like you are always running low on time when it comes to getting your work done, you have more control over your time than you could imagine. With a good understanding of Parkinson’s Law and understanding some of the different time management techniques at your disposal, you will soon find that you have way more time in your day than you ever imagined.