Do you feel like you just have too much to do, and too few hours in the day? During our busiest times, we can feel overwhelmed by our to-do lists, thinking we’re perpetually behind. But all hope is not lost — there is a way to regain control of our minds and our to-do lists.
When I was a camp counselor for what I like to call “Nerd Camp” (a summer camp for middle school and high school students in which you take a high school course in three weeks), I was instrucuted to tell my students about Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
In other words, the amount of time you allot for a task is how long it will take to get it done.
I’ll admit that when I first heard this, I was pretty skeptical. But after a year and a half working in broadcast news, I learned that when you’re under extreme deadline pressure, you absolutely have to make your work get done in the time allotted. When I was sent on one of my first stories as a one-man band reporter (meaning I shot and edited my own video, in addition to writing and voicing the story), I ran around the city like a maniac gathering my footage. I worked up until the second of my live newsroom hit, and when I was done, I was shocked. I had just managed to finish what had seemed impossible just five minutes before.
To me, it all seemed like a miracle, but there is logic behind it. I started taking a closer look at how this works after reading Brian Moran’s article, “Minimal Hours, Maximum Productivity” on Under30CEO.com. His tips apply more to those who work from home, but I pulled out a few ideas from his article and my experience that can help everyone:
- Set a Time Limit. If you aren’t already under a deadline, set one for yourself. Decide that you will only spend so many hours on this task, or that by a certain time, you will have finished a specified percentage of the work. Write it down on your schedule.
- Plan Ahead. This goes along with setting a time limit. Moran suggests taking this a step further, though, and planning out your day the night before. Figure out which hours of the day are your most productive, and structure your day around that. Do your heavier tasks during those productive hours, and save the easier tasks for the rest.
- Remain Calm. When you’re under pressure from a hard deadline imposed by someone or something else (as I was in news), you don’t have the luxury of saying “I need one more minute.” It’s important, then, that you remain calm from the start. It’s hard to do, but remaining calm will keep your mind clear, and you’ll operate more efficiently that way.
- Accept Imperfection. I am someone who wants to give every project my best. It’s possible to give your projects your best, but when you’re under a tight deadline, they can’t all be perfect. I had to accept that maybe there’d be small flaw in my editing, but that it wouldn’t be visible to the untrained eye. You have to accept that it’s more important to get the content out than to make it absolutely perfect. You’ll have a better day next week when you have more time to create a perfect piece.
- Ask for Help. Of course, when you’re facing a deadline that you don’t think you can conquer, ask someone else for help. Delegate your work effectively from the start and you’ll avoid a lot of panic and frustration. Be realistic about how many places you can be at once or how many tasks you can juggle.
Still afraid of your piles of work and deadlines? Don’t be! Think of them as guides to keep you on track. When you stop fearing the work, you’ll be surprised at what you can get done in a short amount of time.