If you observe ineffective people, you will see that they make three critical productivity errors.
- Firstly, before they start work, they do not estimate how long a task will take. So they often find they don’t have enough time allocated to get the job done.
- Secondly, they work slowly. So at the end of the day, they regularly find that they haven’t achieved much.
- Thirdly, they allow people, emails, and phone calls to interrupt what they’re doing. So they lose concentration and often take a long time to return to the task they were working on.
Making just one of these errors is enough to greatly reduce your productivity. However, doing all three of them is ruinous for anybody wanting to achieve at a high level. Yet this is how most people work. Even if a person is of above-average intelligence, she or he will often find that their results are ordinary.
Enter the timer method. It’s super simple but inordinately effective.
Here’s how it works: Whenever you have a task to do, first estimate how much time it’s likely to take. (If it’s going to take more than 90 minutes, you may wish to break the job into sections.) Now, shorten your estimate by 20 percent.
As an example, let’s say you had to write a report, and you thought it would take you 60 minutes. You may give yourself only 48 minutes to do it (20 percent of 60). Next, find the timer on your mobile phone. Set the alarm for 48 minutes and begin working on the task.
The final part of the timer method is that you do not allow any interruptions, or take a break (unless it’s an emergency or a necessary bathroom visit). You work all the way through. Try this method just once, and you’ll be amazed at how effective it is. You are clear how much time you have. You push yourself to get the job done quickly. And you work without interruptions for a specific period of time—Bingo: an immediate and major increase in productivity.
The timer method works so well because it counteracts one of the great laws of human activity, Parkinson’s Law. Articulated by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” By reducing the amount of time you make available to complete a task, you work way faster. You are also very often delighted to find that by putting time pressure on yourself, you do actually get the task achieved in the limited period you gave yourself.
There’s another benefit to the timer method. When you pick up the pace, you get hit with a burst of energy – you feel sharper, clearer, and more motivated. It’s a great feeling – certainly far better than trudging through your workload at a snail’s pace.
When implementing the timer method, don’t answer the phone if it rings. If someone interrupts you, tell them you’ll come back to them as soon as you’ve finished. Working with incessant stops and starts is poisonous to effectiveness.
Yes, the technique is a little out there, and at first, you may find it a tad stressful to always be monitoring your work with a timer, but within a week or so, you’ll get used to it and will fall in love with the awesome results it fosters.