Have you ever noticed that even the most simple task can expand to fill any amount of time that you allocate to it? This is sometimes known as Parkinson’s Law (although confusingly there are two Parkinson’s Laws). Here’s a double-pronged attack to make you more productive.
We’ve looked at using timers here before, and today we’re going to use them again. But this time we’re going to combine it with being ‘selectively unavailable’.
So today, pick one or two tasks – ideally mundane or boring tasks you might perfectly reasonably not enjoy and therefore put off – and make yourself scarce at the same time.
Start by turning off any social media alerts or email alarms. You know, the ones that go ‘ping’ or nag you with bright colours and generally get you out of the zone. You can put an auto-responder on your email to let people know you’re only checking messages twice a day or once a day – put a mobile number in your message if you like, but make sure people know it’s for emergencies.
You can also use apps and ‘VIP’ settings on phones, emails etc, so that messages from specific people can get through to you. That’s good sense if you need to be there for clients, or have to be available at short notice for certain relatives. Pick specific times for when you’ll check your other communications and messages, and stick to them.
So now you’re far less likely to be dropping in and out of social media and non-essential emails. It’s more time-efficient in the long run if you check them in batches rather than opening up and closing down here and there through the day, plus it makes it easier to prioritise what’s really important.
Next, take your task, and set a timer. Any timer will do – kitchen timer, cooker timer, an alert sound on your phone, whatever you like. I find that for very mundane tasks such as tidying and filing a ticking timer works really well – it’s always in the background reminding you. For answering emails or completing scheduling, where more care is needed, I prefer a silent work time and a pleasant-sounding alarm – I look forward to the alarm rather than dreading it, and it reminds me that I have a nice little break coming up.
As a quick aside, I haven’t had much luck using timers for creative activities. Maybe because they have a less-easily defined beginning, middle and end, timewise. If you’ve had a different experience yourself them please let me know.
Be stingy with the amount of time you allow for mundane task completion. Don’t allow it to run on too long, as the task will start to fill the whole allocated time. This is especially helpful during decluttering exercises, where most of us tend to overthink and get bogged down with anxiety or nostalgia when we look at certain items. It can short-circuit the ‘perfectionism >> procrastination >> paralysis’ pathway too, where people with high standards can paradoxically start to perform badly.
What are you setting a timer for today, and when will you check your messages? I’m going through a load of old receipts and filing them with a loudly ticking kitchen timer on the table with me, and I’m not checking messages between noon and 4pm.