How to shorten the amount of time to complete a task

There's an old adage called Parkinson's Law which states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

We see great examples of this when we're tasked with writing a report (either for work or school - it doesn't matter). When we allot ourselves an afternoon, it takes the entire afternoon to complete. If, on the other hand, we wait until the last minute, we find that we can whip one out in less than an hour.

Obviously, I don't advocate waiting until crunch time just to psych yourself out and get it done quicker. But if you've done the work on the front end and developed a system for scheduling time to be creative, you'll be able to intentionally block out a smaller amount of time to get the work done and still manage it.

The beauty of Parkinson's Law is that, if you can effectively manage your schedule, you can fit more tasks in your day while keeping your day relatively stress-free. Allotting smaller blocks of time to tackle a to-do leverages intention and short-term, intense focus to complete a task quickly.

The key to Parkinson's Law being effective is being prepared. Someone who is unorganized, flippant, unaware and unprepared might need an entire afternoon just to figure out what the report is supposed to be on. But by consolidating and organizing the necessary information into an easy-to-access external brain such as Evernote or Google Docs, it's just a matter of pulling up the information and getting to work when the scheduled time rolls around.


1. Schedule a specific block of time for the task

I find that it works best if it's on your calendar, linked to a specific day and specific time. However, for less important tasks, I've also been able to simply sit down when I had the time, set a timer for however long I want to work on a project and use the count-down to achieve the same mental effect.


2. Prepare beforehand

As I think of a new idea for a post, I'll create a new note for it in Evernote and tag it with "Pending Post". I generally have 10-20 ideas marinating at any given time. As I run across quotes, applications, anecdotes, stories or images that develop the topic a bit more, I'll add those snippets of information to that note. Then, by the time I sit down to actually write it two or three weeks down the road, I simply pull up the note and I've got all of the information necessary to write the post in the allotted time.

For other tasks, this sort of preparation won't be feasible and will require you to gather your information in a shorter amount of time. But the principle remains - when possible, make your preparations beforehand.


3. Remove Distractions

The chief reason that people do not complete tasks as quickly as they could is that they get distracted too easily. College students sit in busy locations to write a paper where friends and conversation can easily distract them. Employees try to juggle phone calls and emails at the same time as their project. We leave our phones on full volume and turn on notifications for every social media app on our phone. These are common distractions (people, other tasks, notifications) but there are ten million more.

These things in and of themselves, don't take up a lot of time, but the distraction they cause, do. You have to re-engage your project every time you are interrupted. Without distractions, however, your mind can fully engage and enter what is known as "flow state." It's a "mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity."

Remove distractions by shutting down your email, turning your phone on silent, putting in your headphones and whatever else is necessary. After your project is complete, feel free to respond to those "urgent" requests for your attention to your heart's content... until your next scheduled task, that is.