Have you ever had JUST enough time to get a project done, and thought what a lucky break that was?
Or have you managed to get the whole house cleaned when you had a looming project to work on or guests about to arrive?
Many people struggle with deadlines, but few know of an actual pheomenon called Parkinson’s Law. A British scholar, C. Northcote Parkinson, coined the term to describe work filling the time given for it.
If we are given three weeks to work on something, rarely do we start working on it right away, or at least not with the enthusiasm we might a few days before it’s due. Even if we work on it a bit each day, there is usually a strong push, “all nighters” in the case of many students, right at the last minute, getting it magically finished, just in time when it’s due.
I remember I was taking a psychology course and we had to submit weekly projects and I created a game for myself. The first week, I submitted the project exactly on time and felt quite proud of myself. The second week, I was an hour early and thought, “Well look at me go!” The third week I was six hours early and I was celebrating. By the end of the course I was actually submitting projects days early, just for the thrill of overcoming my own bad habits.
With every collaboration book I’ve published, I have a few eager people who submit pieces right away, riding the wave of enthusiasm. I have a larger group of people who email me a week before, starting to get panicked because that inevitable writer’s block shows up and “Oh my gosh what are they going to do, they will need to withdraw from the book, they aren’t able to do this!!” (More on that in future articles!)
I have created workshops in the last week before the final deadline to help this, for anyone willing to attend. Even still, there are the group that get it in to me on the final day at 11pm, midnight, 1am (“I hope I’m not too late!”), the next day (“Am I still able to submit this?”) Also more on that soon. As a society we are wired for these unproductive habits, sabotage, and entertaining distractions.
We have become used to Parkinson’s Law, assuming it will all get done, right on time, with enough time to spare, because that’s “Murphy’s Law”. It’s not Murphy, it’s Parkinson 🙂 Sometimes Murphy is also blamed for “Of course it didn’t get done, isn’t that always the way?!” Poor Murphy probably doesn’t know what’s his fault and not!
This is why time blocking or self imposed deadlines tend to help us humans, although the latter is more effective with an accountability buddy or other check in system. In today’s increasingly distracted society, we can’t simply cross our fingers and hope it all works out. For maximum productivity, we do need a plan.
Time blocking helps motivate us because it breaks down tasks into chunks so instead of needing to write a 1000 word article all at once, we might have a block of time for research, a block of time for outlining, a block of time for flow writing to get us going, and then we may write in 250 word blocks.
The experts recommend you take a break every 50 minutes of sitting anyway, to walk around, step away from your project, clear your head and get a fresh perspective. One technique I’ve heard mentioned is when writing something, to take a break mid sentence, because then when you come back to it, you won’t be staring at a period at the end of a sentence, you’ll be staring at a sentence that you logically know how to finish, to help you get back into the groove.
This also works for household things as well, if you plan 20 minutes for doing the dishes, and a half hour walk right after before your favourite show comes on, you will be much more motivated to stick to the time you’ve set aside without allowing distractions to cut into what you’re doing.
Many authors will set aside half an hour a day to write. If the average person writes 400 words in half an hour, a 70,000 word book would take 175 days to write, or just under 6 months. Now, many can write faster than that, or can’t write every day, so those are very rough averages.
Keep in mind, the work will fill the time given. So if 6 months seems too long, and you’re willing, up your daily word count to 800 words a day. Once you’ve developed a rhythm, it will likely go faster than an hour, therefore helping you get your first draft ready in 3 months or less. As long as you focus and make the most of the time you’re setting aside for the task.
I’ve heard of people using some extreme methods to hold themseles accountable. One new way I’ve heard of, is that if the person gets the work done in time, they can buy themselves a reward or donate to a charity they love. If they do not get the work done by the time set, that money must be donated to a charity or cause they hate. It can be a great push to ensure you stick to the task at hand!
A less extreme way is to get an accountability buddy, or mastermind group. Both of these have been very effective in my own life. An accountability buddy is someone for a daily or weekly check in, via phone, text, or email, for whatever you need to stay on track for. It’s great for exercise, work projects, healthy eating and meal planning, and general mental health check ins. They can help you stay motivated on the days your bed is extra comfy, or the day has been particularly hectic and you just aren’t sure you can fit in that workout or 30 minutes of writing today.
Mastermind groups are usually more structured and business focused. Sometimes they can be over an online meeting platform or in person, networking style. If there is an agenda, it will help everyone stay focused and on track, and mindful of the time, since the meeting will fill the time given for it. These can be great for sharing resources and bouncing ideas off of before you invest your time in it.
As a writer, work can get lonely, but there are many alternatives to keep it fresh and interesting. Many writers are part of writing groups, or work in a cafe so they aren’t by themselves, while still connected with people, and they get their workdone. Coworking spaces are a fast growing new trend as well for this very reason, as many more entrepreneurs are working from home offices or remotely.
The thing to be aware of however, is that as great as it is to be around people, socializing also needs to have time planned for it or it will easily use all the time you have set aside for working.
Distractions will also fill the time available. Many report scrolling news feeds and not knowing where that hour went so fast. These platforms are designed to keep us locked in, so much so that FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) has become a real thing.
But my challenge to you is to take back your time. Set yourself up to win. As my business mentor Marie Forleo says, “Create before you Consume!”
Even if we aren’t morning people, our most creative hours tend to be early morning, as we have been in a restful state, and wake up with a blank slate without the emotions and pressures of the day. Some of the most creative people have worked hard to “switch” themselves to wake up a bit earlier, to have that peaceful time before the world gets going.
Whether it’s to meditate and ground yourself, to plan the day without external influence, to create something from your heart, to exercise to get the heart pumping, self care first thing in the morning is the best thing we can do for ourselves. Because as we know, once the day gets going, it will fill the time if we don’t plan the time.