It’s been said that procrastination is the silent killer –or was it hypertension? Never mind that; let’s stick to the first for now.
We all procrastinate, and in a wide variety of reasons; the most common is fear, and also simple laziness. In a way, our biology takes off the hook with laziness, simply because it urges us not to spend energy on a task that isn’t important to our survival; so we postpone, delay, avoid, excuse ourselves, etc.
But then, the deadline comes, and pulls us out of laziness giving us a sense of urgency… Deep inside we know that missing this deadline is bad for our survival; it can cost us our job, money, assets, our free time, friendships, relationships, etc.
This knowledge becomes fear, and this fear pushes us to do whatever it takes to finish our project, and we go crazy to make this happen.
Some time back, I heard about Parkinson ’s Law. It states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
That’s a very interesting point; because it sends you into a mild survival mode where you actually get the job done, without lazing about too much.
Getting used to set deadlines.
When we are faced with distant deadlines, we get a false sense of security… let’s say we have a task due in three weeks, so we’re ok to “burn daylight” watching a movie or taking a nap.
Time limitations force us to restructure work so it can fit into the schedule.
They also help us work less, or at least, spend less of our time in “work mode”.
What we lose ignoring deadlines
Giving ourselves something to lose is the best way to make ourselves respect a time limit. What are we missing out by lingering at the office after hours?
Think about it… if we get home early –or in time, we could enjoy a movie with our family or spouse, relax at home and cook a special meal, or give some time and attention to that side project…
But no… we’re wasting all those opportunities by doing last minute work we could have done earlier in the day.
Creating reasonable deadlines
Parkinson’s Law has high practical value.
It helps us cut down lost ours in which we could be doing something else, and it keeps us away from the guilt and stress that always follow wasted time.
However, when first starting to apply this rule, it’s likely to feel overzealous and set impossible deadlines in an effort to work faster. This doesn’t work. It only gives us more stress as we try to meet the time limit, thus reducing the quality of our work.
The point of the deadline is to cut down on stress and wasted time, not to wrestle with the clock.
If a task requires 10 hours of work, let’s have it done in 10 hours. If we can do it in 9, great; but it’s also ok if we have it in 11. That extra hour isn’t wasted time; it’s a buffer for unexpected events like an urgent request, a phone call, loss of concentration and even a moment to relax.
Deadlines can help us reduce some of the wasted time and the stress we tend to accumulate in our working days, and it can also help us do more than we thought possible.
So, if you’re interested in optimizing your performance, keep the following in mind:
- Always define your work ahead, and set a deadline
- Think about what you can lose if you miss on the deadline
- Is your deadline realistic? If not, give it some extra thought and figure it out.
And remember, time limits are a tool to help you out, not something to fight against.