— July 14, 2017
Whether you’re working in a small business or a global corporation, your job performance is measured on the quality and quantity of work you produce.
The common denominator when it comes to both of these measures is focus; maintaining focus will allow you invest more into your work and increase your productive output. Focused people get things done and do them well, while focused teams breed a fantastic work ethic.
The trouble with focus is that it’s not something you can maintain for long periods at a time. The mind inevitably wanders, resulting in time being wasted on procrastination or even simply overthinking a simple task. This kind of frustration can even be a factor in work-related anxiety.
You end up spending your time staring blankly into space or finding ways to do anything other than work — this is valuable time you could have spent giving your brain a chance to unwind. Instead of either working or relaxing, you do neither.
Parkinson’s Law and time management
Time management really is the name of the game. While it’s all well and good planning your day out, you still leave yourself open to distractions, tangents, and other extraneous variables that will only have a detrimental effect on your productivity. You have to be rigorous with your time to truly manage it effectively, which can mean approaching an eight- or nine-hour workday completely differently to what is considered traditional.
Parkinson’s Law operates on the principle that work will expand to fill the time made available for its completion. In application, this means that if you were to allocate yourself three hours to complete a task, it would take you the full three hours.
Such is the tendency for the human brain to drift into complacency, Parkinson’s Law explains that by giving yourself stricter deadlines, you can achieve the same result in much less time. You do not give yourself the chance to subconsciously call it in, and therefore your productivity increases.
Learning how to curb procrastination
Of course, it isn’t as simple as merely cutting your time and hoping you finish your work within the planned duration. You must first identify what causes you to lose focus, how long you tend to get distracted for, and what you can do to prevent yourself from zoning out of work.
A helpful exercise is to figure out how long you tend to spend procrastinating. This procrastination calculator from Nigel Frank allows you to determine how long out of a year you spend procrastinating, as well as how much money that is worth to you — the figure will be particularly daunting if you are self-employed.
Identify your procrastination triggers and remove these from your working environment. If it’s social media, sign out. If it’s chatty colleagues, put your earphones in. Tell yourself you won’t engage in distractions during the hours you focus on working; this will become a lot easier once you master the art of portioning your work day.
Split up your work day into manageable chunks
The majority of us may be contracted to work eight hours a day, but it would be unrealistic to expect people to concentrate for so long without losing focus. By portioning your work day you can knuckle down for just as long as you feel you’re able to, and make the most of dedicated break time to blow off some steam.
Take an eight-hour work day as an example. If you were to divide your day into three separate two-hour knuckle-down periods, you’ll find that your focus can increase massively. Taking a break between each ‘shift’, no longer than 30 minutes to an hour (depending on lunch breaks), allows you to recharge your brain ready for the next period of focus.
Only when you learn how to unwind between these shifts will you truly be able to focus. You should make an effort to learn effective ways to de-stress on your breaks, with an emphasis on leaving your workspace, engaging your senses, and exercising.
Splitting up a working day so rigorously may seem like an alien concept to you at first, but you will soon see the impact that this minor change to your work habits can have on your productivity. It won’t be long until you are flying through your day, producing work to a higher standard of quality and quantity. The satisfaction of producing a higher standard of work will also motivate you to keep working hard.
With this renewed sense of energy and intense focus, procrastination and ‘zoning out’ will no longer be a negative work habit; you’ll be doing a better job while working fewer hours.