Photo by Simon McPherson, Flickr CC
Parkinson’s Principle is an saying that states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. I’m sure there are (annoying) superhumans out there for whom this doesn’t apply, but it definitely applies to me. If I have no deadline, nothing gets done. On the other hand, an immediate deadline forces me to focus, avoid scope creep, and get things done without procrastination.
For example, I blog every day because it forces me to challenge myself and write every day. No, my posts are not always great. But I think they’re getting better, and I’m finding my voice and growing my audience. I’ve tried just posting when the urge strikes me and it results in a post every few months, if that. The only way for me to hone my writing is to create content for public consumption every day, whether I feel like it or not.
So keeping deadlines and constraints close and challenging is one way to exploit Parkinson’s Principle for your benefit, but there’s another way I like to use it: strategy brainstorming.
I have a lot of goals, and what I’ve learned is that I need to keep my goals semi-realistic, or I get discouraged because I’m constantly missing my target. Reaching a goal is a psychological boost, and I exploit that by setting goals that force me to stretch, but not to a ridiculous extent.
But unrealistic goals are very useful for planning and strategy brainstorming sessions, because they give you an artificial constraint and force you to think in terms of a near-impossible deadline.
For example, one of my goals for 2011 is to make enough income from this blog that I could live off of it if I wanted to. I think this is a realistic goal, based on the blog’s current income and what I’ve seen from other bloggers. Not an easy goal, but a realistic one.
But for the last few days, I’ve been wrestling with this question: how could I make a full-time income from my blog in 90 days? What about in 30 days? These obviously ridiculous and unrealistic questions have resulted in some interesting ideas that I’m going to try. My real goal remains end of 2011, but the brainstorming using a hypothetical deadline has been very helpful in coming up with ideas.
Just for fun, try imagining that your goals are 10x as challenging as they currently are, but don’t ask yourself whether you could do it. Ask how you could do it, and then work the problem for awhile and see what you come up with.
If you want to pay off your debt in two years, ask how you could do it in two months. Maybe that means selling some assets. Maybe you could negotiate your debt balances down. Maybe it means working two extra jobs, or taking on a huge amount of freelance work and working yourself to death for the next two months.
If you want to learn French in the next three years, consider what you would do if you only had three months. Maybe you could hire a French tutor or go live in Paris for 90 days. Maybe you could find some French people on Skype to chat with for a couple hours every day, no matter how embarrassing it is. Maybe you could simulate living in France by changing the language on all your devices to French, reading only French news sites and news papers, listening to French music, etc.
You might decide that these are not things you are willing or able to do, but the point of the exercise is to see what kinds of out-of-the-box ideas come to mind when you impose constraints on the goal.
How would you accomplish the impossible if your life depended on it?