The secret to accelerated goal achievement
Have you heard of Cyril Parkinson? He was a historian who worked in the British civil service. He observed that as bureaucracies got bigger they became more inefficient. When he looked at other real-life scenarios he realised that as the time allotted to a task increased, the efficiency with which it was done decreased. Put simply, a task that took an hour to complete, if assigned two hours would stretch over that period.
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
It’s called Parkinson’s Law and it may be the challenge you’ve been facing.
So what’s going on?
Although it may involve elements of procrastination, Parkinson’s Law is more about poor task estimation and there are two elements at play:
- You’ve assigned so much time to the task that there isn’t a sense of urgency to get it done. You may be able to take your time and allow yourself to get distracted. There isn’t a compelling reason to focus and get it done more quickly.
- When more time is allocated to a task, psychologically the task seems more complicated. Your mind starts to think that the quality should be better and as a consequence, it should take longer. Think about a project assigned one week versus six weeks, you would probably feel compelled to take more time over the details for the latter. As a result, you use all the time allocated.
So how do you overcome the effects of Parkinson’s Law? Here are 3 things you need to do.
1. Start with a clear goal
The first is knowing the outcome you are trying to achieve. Your goal needs to be clear, specific and measurable. Clear goals provide the constraint you need to focus, without it your attention will wander and it’s easier to get distracted. It also helps to focus on one task at a time (multitasking should be avoided).
Another benefit of having a clear goal is it makes it easier to get into a flow state. Flow has been described as ‘A mental state of intense concentration and complete immersion in an engaging activity, where one loses track of time and space, while also experiencing great enjoyment and inner peace.’ A clear goal is important for flow because it provides the necessary structure required to get in the zone more readily. If you’ve ever been in the zone you know everything comes more easily.
2. Create a sense of urgency
As the late great Duke Ellington said: ‘I don’t need time, I need a deadline.’ and that’s the issue. Without constraints there’s no immediate urgency to do the work, your natural tendency to wait, linger and procrastinate takes over. However, if you can convince yourself that you don’t have the luxury of time you can bring the necessary focus to the task.
To do that you want to move deadlines forward and give yourself a shorter timeline than you feel comfortable with. A simple technique I’ve used is to reduce my deadlines by 10-20%. If a task was due in five days, I set a deadline at four. A two week project was shortened to a week and a half. If you want to start making progress faster don’t be afraid to be more aggressive when setting target dates for your goals.
Having deadlines are great but how do you make yourself take them seriously? You need to do the following too.
3. Establish consequences
If you want to up the ante you need to create real short-term and long-term consequences for failure and success. Make the costs high for failing but also make the rewards high for succeeding. A simple way to do this is to commit to someone else. That could be your manager, an accountability partner, your audience. At work give a date for when you’ll deliver the piece of work. I’ve set automated publishing dates for some of my articles. Sometimes the consequence is a big investment upfront. For instance, you enrol on a training program for a significant amount, you’re invested in being a success.
Here’s the thing about consequences. The bigger they are the scarier they can be. Your flight or fight response may kick in and you feel that burst of adrenaline but having a consequence for achieving or not achieving your goals works. Nothing focuses the mind more than knowing that what you do matters.
Are you ready to sprint to your goals?
Getting more done in less time is possible if you understand Parkinson’s Law and use it to your advantage. Start by getting clear on your goals then set slightly scary deadlines with meaningful consequences. Apply these three principles and watch your productivity and achievements skyrocket.
Now over to you.
Have you observed Parkinson’s Law at work in your life?
Could you start to move faster to your goals by applying these three principles?
Let me know in the comments.