No-vember – Parkinson’s Law and Batching
“So much time is wasted switching from one task to another. By batching repetitive tasks, once wasted time is recovered and can be used for other things. ”― Richie Norton
Belated Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoyed seeing friends and family. And that you didn’t feel too many regrets after going “feast mode” on the turkey and dressing. Today, we conclude No-vember by tackling the biggest objection to saying no – How do we say no to tasks that must be done? By saying no to giving them unnecessary time with batching.
In 1955, naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson coined “Parkinson’s Law” in a satirical essay in The Economist. He observed that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He then wove a story of a retiree whose one task for the day is to send a postcard. Because she has all day, she takes an hour to pick out a card, another hour to find her glasses, longer to write the note, and so on until the card is posted and the day is done. We’ve all lived some version of this. With abundant time, our efforts lack urgency.
However, the opposite can also be true.
In The Millionaire Real Estate Agent we wrote about how much we get done the day before we leave for vacation. We breathlessly pack, get the dog kenneled, triage email, and knock out our priorities. All in the name of a work-free holiday. We dubbed it the “Day Before Vacation Miracle.” Short on time, urgency ramps up our efforts.
This brings us back to those “un-no-able tasks.” Because we can’t say no to the tasks, we compress the time allowed to do them. A proven technique for doing this is called “batching.” With batching, we group similar tasks together, like managing emails, updating our database, or paying the bills.
For example, instead of checking email throughout the day, try using three short time blocks at the beginning, middle, and end of the day. Set a timer and make it a game to triage as many messages as you can. By grouping similar tasks and limiting your time, you allow yourself to go into an optimal performance state, which psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow.” Sports fans probably know this as a player in “the zone.” You’ll be knocking out correspondence the way Stephen Curry knocks down treys.
You’ll also save a ton of time. Most people either multitask these essential but low-priority tasks or slog through them like a teenager washing dishes. Both approaches waste precious minutes and hours that could be devoted to your yeses.
To summarize, batch similar low-priority tasks. Give them small blocks of time. Treat them like a game where your job is to complete as many as possible in the time allowed.
One question to ponder in your thinking time: How can I limit time given to the things I can’t say no to?