“It is the busiest man who has time to spare.”
You’ve got your first paid writing project from a client.
They tell you they need it in three weeks. Miraculously, you finish it in exactly three weeks.
How lucky is that?
Your client gave you the exact amount of time you needed to research, write, and edit the project.
Or did they?
The more likely answer is that you’ve once again proved Parkinson’s Law. The entire thing is only 10 words, but they pack a wallop:
“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
In other words, if you give yourself, say, three days to finish a task, chances are you’ll finish it in three days.
Can you relate? I can. I’ve been guilty of it too many times.
But instead of letting it happen again, I’m going to share how to get more done in the shortest time possible.
Below are 15 tips you can put into action immediately to help you say goodbye to Parkinson’s Law and launch the productive life of your dreams — with more clients, more money, and more free time than you’ve ever had before.
1. Set aggressive, but realistic deadlines
Instead of giving yourself an entire week to finish a task, taking the attitude, “I’ll finish it when I finish it,” give yourself an aggressive, but realistic deadline.
It has to be a firm deadline. You can’t extend it because you think you need more time.
That being said, if you don’t finish something within the allotted time, reevaluate the situation, and assign a new deadline.
2. Breakdown tasks into smaller tasks
When it makes sense, divide up a task into smaller tasks and allocate a time limit to each one.
3. Get more aggressive when it comes to assigning a time amount to each task
Aim to get more done as time goes by. So instead of assigning four hours to research something, assign 3.5.
If you can become just 2% faster at what you do every week, after 52 weeks you’ll have increased your efficiency by 274%.
And that means you can make the same amount of money, while working 274% less!
4. Manage your tasks efficiently
Use the 4 D’s:
- If there’s a writing-related project you either don’t enjoy or that doesn’t lead to you making money, DELETE it from your to-do list.
- While not always applicable for freelance writers, if there’s something you can DELEGATE to someone else, do it.
- If it’s not important or can be done later, DEFER it. (If you find yourself deferring something more than a couple of times, DELETE it.)
- And last, focus on the things that will help you make a living as a writer and DO them.
5. Know when you’re finished with something
Always do good work, but know when to quit.
Voltaire once said “Perfect is the enemy of good.”
While there are many ways to interpret it, I see it as him saying that perfection is very difficult to achieve and at some point, you have to say to yourself, “It’s good enough,” and move on.
6. Avoid distractions
Don’t flip over to your favorite news site and check what’s going on in the world intermittently throughout the day when you’re writing.
Try to eliminate all distractions that pop up such as Facebook messages, personal calls, or checking the latest news headlines. In the time you allocated for writing, focus on writing.
7. Manage email efficiently
Don’t read your email every time a new message comes in. Check your email maybe once or twice a day (unless, of course, you’re expecting an important email that has an impact on what you’re doing at the moment).
Plus, set a time limit for how long you spend on email. Give yourself maybe five or 10 minutes maximum. If you don’t, before you know it, 30 minutes will have gone by and you’ll have accomplished precious little.
8. Focus on one thing at a time
When writing, you have to have tunnel vision. You must focus solely on the task at hand.
If you’re worried about a disagreement you had with a friend or family member, steamed over an unexpected bill, or just stressed out in general, chances are you won’t accomplish much.
You have to lock all those things away in a box in your mind and send it out to space until you’re finished with the task at hand.
9. Have a clear idea of what you’re doing next
Always have something scheduled on your agenda to start after you finish a task.
If you have nothing planned after you finish a task, you might be tempted to play fast and loose with your writing goals.
10. Get a buddy to hold you accountable (and vice versa)
Maybe partner up with a friend and hold each other accountable to deadlines. Perhaps review with each other every morning what you plan to accomplish that day, while reviewing how you fared the previous workday.
Having someone hold you accountable can be a big incentive to pack as much productivity into your day as you possibly can.
11. Use a timer
Use a timer for each task you do. This might even be a good time to start using the time management system from legendary copywriter Gene Schwartz.
Gene, as you may know, would set his timer to go off after 33:33 minutes. (He claimed it was easiest to just hit “3” four times.) He’d then take a five-minute break.
Instead of buying a timer, consider an online timer, such as Tomato Timers.
12. Keep track of how you spend your time
This isn’t meant to be a “make work” suggestion. In fact, it wouldn’t take much time to do this.
Just input the day and time along with what you worked on in an Excel spreadsheet. Or, use a free online time-tracking service like Toggl.
This will give you a pretty good handle on how you really spend your time and where to focus on increasing your productivity.
13. Do the toughest, most grueling parts of a task first
Do the “heavy lifting” part of the task first. You’ll have a feeling of accomplishment and it takes away the opportunity to put off something you may not like doing.
For best results, do that challenging task at the beginning of your work day.
14. Reward yourself
If you accomplish what you want in the time you allocate to yourself, reward yourself in some way. Buy yourself a new shirt, have that piece of chocolate cake you’ve been craving, buy a CD by a musical artist you love, or whatever else makes you happy.
15. Believe in yourself
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you absolutely must have a firm belief in your ability to achieve your goals. No matter what career you choose, there’s always bound to be some rough patches.
Just remember, if you’re not starting off from a good place mentally, it can seriously impact what you accomplish each day.
The first step to defeating Parkinson’s Law is to be aware of it. And now that you are, I’m confident that if you implement as many of these 15 tips as you can each day, you can’t help but get more done and be more efficient at everything you do.
There’s an interesting twist to Parkinson’s Law which will become more and more important to you as you make more and more money as a Barefoot Writer. The financial version of Parkinson’s Law goes like this:
“Expenditures rise to meet income.”
In other words, the more money you make, the more obligations you take on. If you recognize this, adjust your mind-set accordingly, and take steps to counteract it, it could have a seriously positive impact on how much you’re able to save on a month-to-month basis.
One way to counteract this is to “pay yourself first.” Each month, set up your bank account to automatically transfer a certain amount of money into a brokerage, mutual fund or retirement account. And as your income rises (and it will if you avoid the first Parkinson’s Law), bump up the amount.
This works because if you don’t actually see the money in your bank account each month, you tend not to be compelled to make plans to spend it.
It’s a wise move if you’re just getting started as a freelance writer, and especially if you’re preparing to transition from a full-time job to full-time Barefoot Living.