Here's why you always wait for the last minute

Written by Paul on April 17th, 2008

This is the second in a series of posts about the lessons I wish I’d learned earlier in life.

Anyone remember getting assigned a project in school? You’d think to yourself, “I’ve got plenty of time, it’s not due for 6 weeks!” Then, before you know it, you’re cramming in the entire project on the night before it’s due. (I was a master of this throughout my school years.

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photo by MShades

Parkinson’s Law simply states that “work will fill the time available for its completion.” As Tim Ferriss puts it in his latest book, The Four Hour Workweek (buy it now, you’ll thank me):

If I give you a week to complete the same task, it’s six days of making a mountain out of a molehill. If I give you two months, God forbid, it becomes a mental monster. The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus.

This presents a very curious phenomenon. There are two synergistic approaches for increasing productivity that are inversions of one another:

1.) Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time. (80/20)
2.) Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important. (Parkinson’s Law).

The best solution is to use both together: Identify the few critical tasks that contribute most to income and schedule them with very short and clear deadlines.

The idea is to apply the 80/20 rule to your to-do list first. Once you’ve determined what you really need to get done, start setting deadlines for each of the remaining things – and stick to them.

(Personal Tip: I set the countdown timer on my iPhone to 60 minutes each time I sit down. When the time runs out, I move on to the next thing on my list – no questions asked. I’ve found that, most of the time, I tend to finish the task within the time. If it didn’t get finished, I leave it on my list and get back to it after working through the next to-do items.)

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