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Why You Never Have Enough Time and What You Need to Do About It

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Has this ever happened to you? You had an assignment, and the deadline was far away. You didn’t work on it much, but in the back of your mind, that insistent little voice was always whispering, “I gotta get this assignment done.”

Suddenly, the assignment is due in two days, and you’ve barely even started! You panic. You skim through the reading, type at lightning speed, guzzling down enough caffeine to keep you awake for days. Your assignment was on your boss’s desk on time.

Your strategy worked, but the rest of the day, you were left struggling to keep your eyes open, and your grade wasn’t that great. The assignment didn’t take long to complete. You had all the time in the world to work on it, so you didn’t. This story is all-too-common.

Procrastinating and then stressing yourself out to get all of our stuff done is something you probably still do today, albeit to a lesser degree. Because of it, you’re less effective than you could be, and you are spending more time than you should on easy tasks.

The More Time You Give A Task, The Longer It Will Take

Have you ever heard the saying, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”? This saying is Parkinson’s Law. Your tasks are like water…if you pour a cup of water into a bowl, the water will spread out, covering the extra space you gave it. A task that could fit into one hour will spread out to fill a week if you allow it.

Parkinson’s Law is all around you. You can find it at work, at home, and in schools with projects, chores, and pre-exam cramming. I doubt it will take you more than a minute to find an example from your own life. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s Law doesn’t work the other way around. Your work won’t shrink to fit the time you’ve allocated it.

People tend to give tasks a lot more time than needed, giving themselves room for procrastination and overthinking. Eliminating that extra time makes you focus on doing the work instead.

By acknowledging Parkinson’s Law, not only will you be able to complete most of your tasks in half the time and gain more free time, but you’ll also have a clearer mind as you’re not stressing over all the tasks have to do this week.

Now that you know what Parkinson’s Law is, it’s time to put that knowledge into action. Here are a few strategies to help you regain your time:

1. Assign All Your Tasks A Time Limit

The problem with to-do lists is that they tell you what to do but not when or for how long to do each activity. One way to fix this is to give each of your tasks a deadline and a time limit. Which tasks take longer to complete, the ones that bring you closer to your goals or the ones your boss assigns you?

I’ll bet it’s the ones your boss assigns you. Your boss gives you deadlines. You either complete it within the given timeline or you start looking for a new job. Most people have trouble sticking to deadlines they assign themselves. With no one holding them accountable, they know there will be no consequences for their inaction. If that’s you, have a friend hold you accountable or gamify the tasks by setting rewards and penalties.

2. Track Your Time

Now all your tasks have time limits, but how do you know whether that time limit is realistic? The answer is time tracking. Time trackers help you get a feel for how long certain activities take you. They give you insights into how you’re spending your time and how much time you’re wasting on distractions.

After using the time tracker, you’ll have a pretty good estimate of how long a certain task should take. You could even challenge yourself to complete that task quicker than you did the previous day.

“The most efficient way to live reasonably is every morning to make a plan of one’s day and every night to examine the results obtained.” – Alexis Carrel

3. Schedule Your Tasks In 30-Minute Chunks

People usually schedule their days by the hours. At 9:00, do this and at 10:00, do that. But, many tasks don’t need an hour. You could easily complete them in 15-30 minutes. So instead of giving each of your tasks an hour, try scheduling your day in 30-minute chunks.

Use the insights you discovered from your time tracking to determine how many portions a task requires. Using the Pomodoro technique has the same effect; work in short sprints, giving your full attention to one task for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break.

4. Break Down Complex Projects

Some projects are so complicated you don’t even know where to start. For these tasks, it’s very easy to overestimate the time required to complete them. The truth is projects like these are just a group of many tasks. By breaking down the project into individual tasks, you can set a time limit for each task, and from there, determine how long the entire project will take you.

For example, say you wanted to start a blog. The tasks would be to set up web hosting, design the blog, and write 10 posts. By knowing what the tasks are and estimating how long each of these tasks would take, you can create a relatively accurate timeline.

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

5. Set a Time To Stop Working For The Day

You have a lot to do. I get that. Usually, this means you have work overflowing out of the office and into your home. You have to get this work done today—it doesn’t matter whether it’s done in the office or at home. You let the work expand to fill the extra time you gave it.

Instead, try setting a deadline for your office work. For example, your entire to-do list must be done by 5 PM…no negotiations allowed. You’ll be surprised how much quicker your work will be done. Without that overflowing work, you can relax and enjoy the rest of your day.

Parkinson’s Law is an observation based on how people use their time. By acknowledging this law, you can take the steps to avoid falling in its snare. 

How do you prioritize your time to get everything done? Share your advice with us below!

Layla Ashraf, founder of ShutUpAndAchieve.com, is a driven achiever who inspires people to take control of their lives. She spreads the idea of wholesome productivity, helping achievers multiply their time, set realizable goals, and live their wildest dreams while still having time to focus on what matters most. Double your productivity by joining the FREE 15-Day Productivity Challenge.

Life

What Les Misérables Taught Me About Our Values

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Who am I? The ultimate question many of us try to answer. When I think of values, I think of Victor Hugo’s 1862 book, “Les’ Miserables”. In Hugo’s book, Jean Valjean, is used as a protagonist to highlight the power in redemptive love and compassion. Valjean goes into prison for stealing a loaf of bread, entering as a simple and decent man. His time in jail seems to have an unrepairable effect, where he emerges from the chain gang as a tough, bitter criminal who hates society for what it has done to him. (more…)

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7 Ways You Can Increase Your Concentration Right Away

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In today’s world, an overabundance of information and a large number of distractions is making it increasingly difficult to concentrate on performing the necessary tasks. In this article, I propose 7 simple methods that will train your ability to concentrate, while not taking you from your usual activities. (more…)

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5 Simple Hacks to Help You Develop the Habit That Will Transform Your Life

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It’s excruciating when we know what’s killing us but we can’t do anything about it because as you know, it is not easy to pull the brake on a high way. According to Napoleon Hill, “remember this always – the best (and one might say the only) way in which old habits may be removed is to form new habits to counteract and replace the undesirable ones”. (more…)

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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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