Little Known Ways of Being Productive

By Magnus Maråk

May 11, 2015   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

I still remember one of the first days after starting at University. Sitting at the back row of the auditorium, shooting the shit with the others, hot girls with short skirts, no worries what so ever. It was all good and terrific for a young man growing up in a village of 200 inhabitants.

Coming straight from high school and somewhat still being breastfed from home we thought going to an University was like a morning breeze and was all about socializing.

Little did we know.

The first assignment we got that day from the professor was to make an presentation that was to be held that same day. Seems minor now and probably to you too, but for three young guys where I at least struggled big time standing in front of an audience this was a big deal.

Make a good presentation and having only some hours to do it?

Some raised their hands and questioned this method and the lack of time but the professor defended his assignment by “Granted time is enough time”.

We were in shock and pissed. How dare he make a fool out of us?

But to our surprise later we made it through the horror and came out from the auditorium alive. We manned up and made the presentation to the best of our abilities.

I learned an important lesson that day that I have remembered ever since and that I still must overcome these days through challenges and tasks.

My little story touch upon Parkinson´s Law, that was a statement made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson.

The gist of it is that “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

For an entrepreneur this case, like I described above, can occur quite often because of bad habits. Most entrepreneurs were once employees and therefore used to working 9-5. And in that environment you need to find stuff to do since you can´t leave whenever you want.

When starting for yourself it is often thought that this way is the most productive and therefore you adopt the same schedule as before. But the thing is that not everyone in the world, and you are probably one of them, need 8 hours a day to accomplish their work.

But if we have 8 hours to finish up our work, we fill 8 hours. If we had 12, we would fill up 12 hours with work as well. But if someone you care about calls or it is an emergency and you have to suddenly leave work in 2 hours but you need to get some tasks done, you would by some sort of magic get it done.

Parkinson´s Law dictates that a task will swell in perceived importance and difficulty in relation to the time allotted for its completion. In my story above we only had some hours before presenting so we had to focus on the bare essentials. The main points of the topic, make a good enough PowerPoint and so on. If you had 2 hours to set up a website before you had to finish up a post you would make a nice enough site and put up an e-mail sign-up and a way for people to contact you for example.

That way you become way more productive because you:

1. Limit tasks to the most important one(s) that gets you the best results or are most critical (Also known as 80/20 and Pareto´s Law)
2. Shorten the time allotted for work to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson´s Law)

By identifying the few critical tasks, that will lead to the most income or a larger audience for the entrepreneur, and also schedule them with very short and clear deadlines you will get more productive and not risking working yourself into the ground.

And even if you know what´s critical, without the deadlines that creates focus, the minor tasks forced upon you will only swell to consume time until another task creeps in to replace it. And at the end of the day you will sit there wondering how the day passed by and you only accomplished minor stuff that won´t get you places.

Let´s get into some ways you can use Parkinson´s Law to your advantage instead. This can make you get more done in less time and having more time to enjoy life or tackle more important tasks and projects instead that will earn you more money or get you promoted if you are an employee.

Use self-imposed deadlines

Make a list of your tasks, and divide them up by the amount of time it would take to complete them. Then you give yourself half that time to complete each task. These self-imposed deadlines should be viewed as unbreakable and the time limit should be crucial.

This is also an exercise in determining how accurate your time projections for tasks are. You may be spot on with some tasks and deadlines, and some may be inflated.

If you work at a computer, a digital timer is going to be a great tool when you are working like this, under self-imposed deadlines. I recommend the site . This can also save you time, since you can check in to see how much time you got left. Personally I love working like this. In my hardest exam periods I always used a stop-watch while reading intensely. I found a quiet place, put on the watch and worked until 40 minutes had passed, 15 minute break, rinse and repeat.

Batch tasks

You should also look out and be aware of those small time-fillers through your workday. It is normal to think that these takes up 10 or 15 minutes of your time, but it can easily add up to much more than that. Instead of checking your email first thing when you wake up or come into the office, rather set a daily time for checking, for example at 11am and 3pm. That way you can respond to more emails at the same time and go through your mails more effective, instead of responding to one every 30 minutes.

Usually an email is never urgent and it never hurts to answer them some hours later. If you want you can also put up an email auto-responder that tells that you only answer emails at two set times through your day, as mentioned above.

Important questions to ask yourself

Keeping Parkinson´s Law in mind, using timers and batching tasks are all great and will make you more efficient but you can do even more simple things to make you aware of what you are spending your time on.

There are some important questions you should ask yourself two or more times on a daily basis. Ask them consistently without fail and you´ll soon find yourself doing more important tasks in less time. And I guess that is what most of us want.

Ask yourself the following questions:

-Am I inventing stuff to do to avoid the important?

Start focusing on demonstrating results instead of showing dedication. Dedication is often just doing meaningless work or staying the longest at work. Imagine George Costanza working for the Yankees and trying to look busy.

Eliminate all the activities you do because you think you should do them and prioritize instead. Which tasks will get me closer to my goal? Get me more customers? Increase revenue? Get me promoted? Focus on getting results and when the time comes for asking for a raise you have a huge list of results to show for.

-If you had a gun to your head and HAD to stop 80 % of different time-consuming activities, what would you remove?

Be ruthless in your choices. What would you cut out and what would you keep that will give you maximum results?

-What are the top-three activities that I do to fill time to get me the feeling of being productive?

We often use these to postpone more important actions or tasks. Be honest with yourself and write them down. Create a not-to-do list of what you are not going to use time on on different times of the day. “I am not going to check mail before 11am”. “I am not going to check my favorite forum or Facebook before 4pm”. “I am not going to do anything else before I have done my meditation in the morning”.

-Ask yourself “If this is the only thing I get done today, will I be satisfied with my day?
Have a clear list of priorities every day, every week. Work toward your bigger goal. Compile a short to-do list the evening before on a piece of paper that fits in your pocket. Write two tasks down the first evening. If you have difficulties in deciding what to choose, ask yourself “If this is the only thing I get done today, will I be satisfied with my day?” Do the tasks you choose separately from start to finish without interruption.

Do the most important work every week, every day, every hour. Chip away at it until you get the results you are after.

Focus on the tasks that gets you the most results and schedule them with short deadlines.
Ask yourself the questions above a few times per day while working. This focus, discipline and self-awareness of what you are really spending your time on will probably serve you well in other areas of life as well.

What is your primary goal that you want to accomplish 6 months from now?

Magnus Maråk

Magnus Maråk is a former teacher who is helping people to get more done in less time and live a healthy and rich life. You can sign up for his free newsletter here:

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