There are several laws and principals about time management. We know most of them but I don’t think we really think about it – or try to leverage it – to improve our own time management. So, I’ve decided to look at three of the most well-known time management laws, unpack them and see how I can use what I have learnt from them, to boost my own productivity.
This law was coined by Douglas Hofstadter in 1979 and states that:
“It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”
Well now! This is one law I think we have all recognised on many occasions. How is it that things sometimes take up so much time? That 20-minute meeting with the boss turned into an hour-long monologue, the research we thought would “only take an hour or so” has now turned into a monster of epic proportions and something as simple as sending an e-mail becomes tedious due to the wi-fi deciding not to cooperate.
The only way I can think of to leverage my knowledge of Hofstadter’s law is to plan better. If we know that tasks will take longer to complete than expected, we can try to build in contingency time. In order to plan better though, we need to have some data to work from – and that is why I measure my time use. If we measure how we use our time during the working day, we already know how long specific tasks takes. We can then use this knowledge to plan better in future. So, if I wrote a proposal yesterday, which took 90 minutes to complete, I can schedule in 90 minutes for the next proposal (instead of the 60 minutes I thought I would need) and add a few minutes as contingency.
Hopefully, these measures will help to beat Hofstadter’s law.
Pareto’s law is also known as the 80/20 rule. This law states:
“Roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”
This one is easy. What it really means is that not all actions are equal. Some of the tasks and projects we do have a profound effect – others, not so much. We can easily get caught up in all the “faffing about” instead of focusing on the work that really matters. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
How I use this law in my business is to really analyse each task before I write it on my Will-Do list. Do I really need to do this – or can I delegate to someone else? Will this task have a direct, positive effect on my core business? This helps me prioritise and focus on the 20% high-impact work I can and should be doing, instead of the 80% of things which will be “nice to do”.
Articulated by Cyril Parkinson in 1955, this law states:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
Again, I think we have all experienced this law in action. Very seldom do we work at optimum speed. Instead, we operate at the speed required to hit the deadline. Very few people I have met, completes a task or project well before the deadline. In fact, that report we had three weeks to write, usually gets written the night before the due date! And somehow we get it done – in one day.
This is where I like to play a game with myself. If I have to do a task, I’ll set a timer for however long I planned to work on this task – and then try to beat the timer. For example, if I need to write a blog and I know from previous experience (measuring my time use, as discussed earlier) that it would take 55 minutes to complete the writing process, I will set the timer for 55 minutes but try to complete the blog in 50 minutes. If I can do this a few times in a row, I have a new (shorter) time allocation of 50 minutes for the next few blogs. It’s a bit of fun and it helps me work faster and so get more done in a day.
Being aware of these three laws and having strategies in place to “combat” it, means I can be more efficient and effective in the use of my time.
Tiana Wilson-Buys is a Business Coach and Productivity Strategist. She offers a free 30-minute virtual meeting to help you get organised. Book your slot here.