This is a guest post from Edmund Mitchell.
I stood in St. Peter’s Square a few years ago and a friend said the Pope’s office window is the last light to turn off at the Vatican, communicating to everyone just how hard the Pope is working for his flock. “Pope’s Window Syndrome” hits people who work for the Church, as they put in grueling 50-60 hour workweeks, leaving lights on in their office long after everyone else leaves for the evening. And while putting in 60 hours a week may make you feel like you are working hard, not getting paid enough, and completely unappreciated, there is a lot of evidence that suggests the more hours you work, the less productive you become. (See this link, that article, and here.) Not to mention the huge negative impact on your family life if you’re married.
Enter Sheryl Sandberg and Parkinson’s Law.
Sheryl Sandberg was the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook and the first woman board member of Facebook’s board of directors. Before Facebook, she was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. Before Google, she worked as chief of staff for the United States Secretary of the Treasury. In 2012 Sheryl made the Time 100, a list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Sheryl ain’t messing around. And Sheryl leaves work everyday at 5:30 P.M.
How? My guess is Sheryl understands “Parkinson’s Law”. Parkinson’s Law originated as a simple and cheeky observation by Cyril Parkinson in an essay in The Economist published in 1955: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
This one sentence changed the way I do, well, everything. Often if I got distracted for 20 minutes at work, I allowed myself to stay at work 20 minutes later to finish the tasks I needed to for that day. There was no deadline on my workday. This was a horrible habit to create.
If work expands to fill the amount of time available to complete it, then the solution is to take charge of the amount of time available to complete our work. Our productivity will improve by getting better at guessing the appropriate amount of time needed to complete a task, and then ruthlessly sticking to the deadline and ignoring everything else. Let’s see how this applies to everyday tasks, our workday, and the workweek.
It’s hard at first to stick to your own time limits. This is a disciplined skill that comes with practice. You will find planning and recording the amount of time you assign for tasks will help you be better at estimating the time needed for certain habitual tasks, like bulletin articles. Check out the Pomodoro Technique for using a timer to blast away your to-do list in the most efficient way. I found it a great training tool to help me get used to tuning out distractions and working on tasks one at a time.
There are plenty of apps that can help you solution this. PomoDone integrates with other popular productivity apps like Trello, Wunderlist, and Asana. Focus Keeper works with your Mac or iPhone. Tomato Timer offers a web-based option that counts down in the web tab.
YOUR WORK DAY
When you walk into work at the beginning of your workday, you either know when you’re going home or you have decided to let your work decide when you are going home. Either “I’m going home at 4.” or “I’m going home once I get everything done.” While the latter is really tempting, setting a specific time to go home adds a deadline to everything you do throughout the day. Little distractions, and too much time spent deciding between this video and that picture add up. If you know that you only have two hours left in your work day, it is a lot easier to tune out distractions, make quick decisions, and focus on what’s important while working under the time pressure to get everything done before its time to go home. I tell my wife when I will be home each day to give me some added pressure to honor my workday deadline.
Want to get real obsessive with your time? Try Rescue Time. Download it, set it, and forget it. It keeps track of the amount of time throughout the day you spend on different applications and websites, so you can’t run from “4 hours on Facebook” or “5 hours on email” at the end of the day.
YOUR WORK WEEK
Every day of the week is connected to the tasks and demands of the rest of the week. In order to be most effective with your time, limit the number of days you allow yourself to get things done. This might mean telling your core team you will email them every Tuesday with Sunday’s youth group schedule, so you don’t wait until Saturday to plan youth group. This also means planning your week out ahead of time so you aren’t just going from day to day reacting to deadlines and the next event or meeting.
PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE
To summarize: set defined start/stop parameters on your tasks, days, and months. If you don’t carve out a sacred space to accomplish a task, there will always be more “urgent” tasks to fill in the extra time. Being proactive with time in this way changes time from just an infinite space we work in to try to get lots done, to a force of pressure that helps us get more done. Give yourself 20 minutes today to block out all distractions and work on one thing that is SUPER important, but isn’t life-threateningly urgent. Go home at 5pm every day this week. Set a deadline for a project. And you’ll thank yourself later.
Edmund Mitchell is a Catholic husband, father of three, and lay minister for the Church. He is a graduate from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and he currently work as the Director of Catechesis & Evangelization at St. Francis of Assisi in Grapevine, Texas. Edmund writes, speaks, and has launched multiple evangelistic projects, including Reverb Culture and LumiBox. A version of this article was originally posted on ProjectYM.