Ended: Aug. 25, 2016
Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it.”
Many people need a sense of urgency to get things done. If you’re a procrastinator, you’ll use up all of the time you have allotted for a project and then likely finish it at the eleventh hour. This behavior is largely based on personality, but generally speaking, if you have a task to do and a half an hour to do it, you will probably get it done. If you have an hour to do the same task, you’ll probably take the whole hour to do it. I’m guilty of this myself, which is one of the reasons I live and die by my Google calendar. I put every activity, meeting, and phone call in my calendar to set a parameter for myself.
Bluma Zeigarnik was a Russian doctoral student in Berlin in the ’20s. She hypothesized that a specific part of our brain processes open-ended information. As human beings, we have a natural tendency toward closure in that we like to finish things. Even the worst procrastinators like to complete their tasks. She also noted that once a task is complete, people tend to forget the details associated with it. Only when the task is interrupted or incomplete are people able to remember the details. She designed a series of experiments to test and better understand this phenomenon, which eventually became known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
Most of my clients would fall into the workaholic category. They tend to stay at the office until all hours, to the detriment of their family life and their personal health. One of the first ways that I try to set limits on people who fall into this category is to restrict the number of hours they spend at the office. I suggest they leave everyday at 5:00 p.m., depending on the person and their work schedule. This suggestion is usually greeted with a lot of hemming and hawing. The first few days of trying to limit the number of hours at the office are always a struggle. They actually get more stressed out before they even have a chance to see a change. They feel like things aren’t getting done, and they’re leaving in the middle of something important. But usually, after the third day, the logic of setting a time restriction starts to gel. They begin to understand that they’ve actually been doing the same amount of work but in a longer stretch of time. Even if they had been diligently working every minute of those long days, the new schedule forces them to think about how they can work more efficiently in the time allotted. They have to figure out how to make a reduced schedule work—either by automating or outsourcing—in order to optimize their time. Interestingly, I’ve seen a 100 percent success rate with this exercise. People love it because they wind up getting more work done and, ultimately, they have more free time. It’s a win-win across the board.
Limited thinking is a problem I see all the time in most of the companies and organizations that I work with. People simply don’t tend to look for another, better way of doing things. They say to themselves, “This is how I’ve always done it and it works just fine.” The saddest part in this line of thinking is they truly believe the tasks and activities they are performing are essential and there is no other way to go about getting them done. There are other ways and other options! Hiring a virtual assistant is one of the most economical and efficient ways to off-load tasks.
Some people are of the mind-set that in order to be useful, they need to take ownership over every little thing. This behavior can sometimes feel almost defensive, and it has to do with the fact that as a society we perceive busyness as a good thing. The fact of the matter is that it’s not cool to be busy! It’s not cool when you don’t see your family because you’re working too much. There’s no nobility in that predicament.
Delegation is a muscle that you need to exercise like any other. You must use it to create pathways in your mind and create channels to get things done. Not only is it important to be more efficient, but it’s also a vital part of the decision matrix we discussed in Chapter 5. People have a hard enough time saying no as it is, so if delegating is not an option you allow yourself, you’re going to feel even more hard pressed to say yes and get in over your head.
A few of the companies we work with have latched on to the idea of virtual assistants in a big way and provide them for every single one of their employees. When a company recognizes the value and utilizes VAs for personal tasks, in addition to business functions, we know they really get it. They have accepted or adopted an almost Google-like stance, recognizing that if people aren’t worried about picking up their dry cleaning at noon, they can focus more intently while they are at work.
Typically, I am pretty anti-errand, because I know there are an abundance of low-cost services that can save mountains of time and untold aggravation, such as laundry delivery, meal and grocery delivery, messenger services, shopping, driving, child care, and home repair.