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Time Sinks

In 1955 a British civil servant was quoted as stating, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Later known as the Parkinson’s Law, this has been a universal truth known to anyone who has thought a project would take 10 minutes and subsequently turned out to take 2 days. Tasks or projects tend to expand to fit the available time to complete them. As a Thriver you are already well aware of the need to complete those items on your list so as to move along to the next priority – which will hopefully be something such as spending time with your family or enjoying a beautiful summer day.

The further we are from a deadline of some sort the less important to us it seems. Take for example our general tendency in the US to put off funding our retirement plans. This is from a US News and World Report article on saving for retirement: “According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, 45 percent of working-age households have no retirement savings at all. Among people 55 to 64, average household retirement savings total only $12,000. For those near retirement who have savings, the average balance is $100,000 – still not much money to finance the next 20 to 30 years.” How scary is that? With luck a majority of us will retire and then what? Continue working because we didn’t save enough? Well, that’s an issue to think about for another month but for this month let’s look at this general tendency.

As a Thriver you’re also likely either self-employed and/or seeking to make sure your plans stay on track. Already driven, you might think this can’t apply to you and your habits but let me ask you this: when was the last time you started a project and then it lingered because there was no deadline on it? What was it like to have that hanging over your head? I’m guessing its not a great feeling; sure isn’t for me!

How to structure your time to avoid this effect? Set deadlines for yourself and your team. State them out loud so everyone can be on track. Breaking down tasks into smaller pieces is also helpful because it allows us to think through how much the ‘smaller’ parts will require. Setting up an Excel database might not take much time but if the first part of that is to learn how to use Excel it could potentially take a great deal of time.

Another area to be mindful about is our tendency to think of a task as less important if we allot a shorter period of time to it. Something with a month’s working time has, in our minds, more significance than does something to which we’ve only allotted 10 minutes. It is helpful if you in some way note its weight to the larger project.

Bottom line? As a Thriver you’re likely pretty good about getting your tasks accomplished but if you’re looking to get just that much better at it set deadlines, state them out loud and be honest about the component pieces required to get your projects done. I have every confidence in the world you’ll get the hang of this deadline tool!

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