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Lessons from a Short Week

As we all know, according to Parkinson’s Law, ‘Work expands to fit the time available for its completion’.

In New Zealand we have recently had a couple of short working weeks back to back and fitting two weeks’ work into a reduced number of days has reminded me of the truth behind this Law.

I always find that when I’m about to have some time off, even a few days, I gain extra focus and energy to get a whole lot of things sorted or moved on. It’s perhaps a way of me feeling that I have got to some level of control of what’s going on so I can go on hoilday with a sense of satisfaction and clarity.

I always wonder why I can’t have the same level of focus and efficiency when I’m not going on holiday.  In this situation, things seem to take longer; I get distracted by non-essentials; and I end up proving Parkinson right but in an adverse way as I find myself working longer hours and not feeling I have achieved any more than I could have if I had worked in a more focused manner.

Wouldn’t it be great if I (we?) could find a way to gain the same level of focus as when we are going on holiday? Our energy would be up; the sense of completion would be up; that nagging doubt about something not being under control would disappear etc.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to look to do something different over the next few weeks to build some new habits, while the memory of how I can work when I need to is still fresh:

  • Set up some ‘fake’ holidays for myself. I will set aside one day every fortnight where I will either take time for myself (e.g. playing golf or having a long weekend) or where I will use the time to catch up on all the things that tend to get left during a busy week and then prey on my mind (usually at 3 a.m. in the morning).
  • Be more disciplined in the way I read and respond to email.  We all know it’s much more efficient to set some time (say 15-30 mins max) at the start; middle and end of the day to deal with email.  When I’m at my most productive just before a holiday, emails are dealt with quickly and not allowed to distract me from the main priorities that need completing before going away.  So I’m going to look to adopt a similar approach on a regular basis so that I’m controlling my email and not the other way around.
  • Set myself a timeframe to complete key pieces of work, and stick to it.  When I have a deadline I seem to be able to deliver what’s needed, to a good standard, on time.  When there is no deadline I seem to take longer and spend too long tweaking things (just because I have time to do so).  So from now on I’ll look to set a deadline and work to that. It might not result in perfect work, but as we know (and I tell my clients all the time), more often that not 80% is good enough so let’s aim for that.

I’m looking forward to my next (‘fake’) holiday and the fact that I’m going to be more focused, efficient and productive.  See you at the virtual beach!


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