I can’t thank you enough for your support in sharing my ESPY nomination with your family, friends, and coworkers. It’s hard to even fully express how good it felt to know so many people stood beside us in the voting. And I know it’s put me behind on getting this post out there (thanks Walt for the kick in the butt I needed) but we pulled it off together! Thank you again for your help.
I have huge respect for the other athletes I was nominated alongside, but if you couldn’t tell, I’m a little competitive. And even in the ESPY nomination there has been some great direct experience with choosing what to put my focus on. Since the nomination came about a week and a half before the award show, there was a limited amount of time to get the word out and a clear deadline for when we would know.
In my last post, we discussed identifying the Paramount. But identifying something is just that, it’s only an identification. Actually working towards completing those Paramount tasks is an altogether different challenge.
It’s hard to do all of the little things, ignore all of our impulses, and actually work on those long-term, complicated goals. As we talked about last time, our bodies are actually designed to give-in to these impulses. No wonder this is hard — we are fighting against nature itself.
I still continually ask myself– how do we set aside the noise and focus on what really matters?
So, as with anything I don’t know, for years I’ve been searching for an answer. Countless books have been written on time management and productivity. I’ve studied so many of them… The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Getting Things Done, the 4 Hour Work Week, and many, many others…
Through this geeky productivity obsession I stumbled on the work of Cyril Northcote Parkinson. He was a British Naval historian and author, who also wrote pretty extensively on administration within organizations. Back in 1955, drawing from his experience in the British Civil Service, Parkinson wrote a humorous essay which detailed a new theory he had. He dubbed this “Parkinson’s Law” and it states that:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Now, lets think about this for a minute… He is saying that work and time are directly related. Ok we know that already… But Parkinson takes this one step further.
He says that work is actually dependent on time – not the other way around.
What does he mean?
Well, when we approach a task, we often ask ourselves a simple question: How much work will this require?
And then, How much time will it take me to finish this amount of work?
Parkinson is saying that we are going at it backwards.
Instead we should be asking, how much time do I have?
Don’t worry about how much work it is because the amount of work will automatically change depending on the amount of time we give it. If you have a little bit of time, the amount of work to complete the task becomes very clear. If you have a ton of time, the perceived amount of “work” will fill up whatever time you decide you have to finish it.
Simply put: Little time = very clear amount of work to get the job done in time to meet the deadline. Lots of time = the amount of work will seem more ambiguous and continue to stack up until the deadline becomes much closer.
Think back to the times in your life when you had a clear deadline. You would do whatever it took to get the job done. And you probably cut out a lot of unnecessary steps along the way.
Now what about the other way around? What’s happened in your experience when you had all the time in the world? …..
I don’t know, but if I had to guess, it was a completely different (probably more complicated) experience.
For me at least, this is a colossal change in thinking.
Looking back, I realize just how true this is. Last year, when we were planning for
Mission Kilimanjaro, it seemed like a huge task, it felt like a tremendous amount of work.
In the early stages, we didn’t have a set date, so this made the amount of work seem much greater. I was working with two of my best friends Joey and Dan (who also has a great blog at www.AthleticCapital.com) and we were working tirelessly on this, but felt no closer to Africa. In fact, under the amount of pressure I felt, it was my inclination to convince the guys to push the date of the trip back several months.
Later I had a conversation with my mom where I told her I was wanting to push the trip back to March and she flat out told me to book my flights for January. She said if you don’t do it now, you’re never going to.
And she was probably right.
I realize now how much Parkinson’s Law was at work. When we started working on the trip we had an indefinite amount of time to get there. And because there was an indefinite amount of time, more and more work would seemingly appear for us to do.
Finally, we set a date. We booked our plane tickets. And like magic, everything became streamlined. We stopped overcomplicating things. We worked just as hard as we did before, but as the date moved closer and closer, our list of things to do kept shrinking instead of expanding.
You can call it luck or fate, but inexplicable, incredible things started happening. All of sudden we were introduced to our mountain guide, Kevin Cherilla, and his business partner, Kristen Salcito. Kevin and Kristen introduced us to Barb and Brett Boutin who built the carbon fiber orthotic devices I used to climb. They proceeded to build the orthotics, which had never been done before, in an unbelievable 2 months from start-to-finish.
I just read the Steve Jobs biography, and not-surprisingly, Steve seemed to be an expert on this. He would want to develop a new product, and his designers and engineers would tell him that they needed a certain amount of time to complete it.
Then Steve would set a due date… Suffice to say, Steve’s idea of a reasonable due date wasn’t really on par with everyone else’s.
His developers would freak out, push back, and threaten to quit. They would say the deadline was insane or impossible. Even if they could do it, they would exclaim, the ridiculously short time would mean that the quality of the product would undoubtedly suffer.
Now Apple is outpacing the industry, releasing new products every year.
So what do we take away from all of this?
Last week, we talked about identifying the Paramount from the Pressing. Parkinson has taught me that we need to make these things the same. We need to identify what is Paramount in our lives and make them the Pressing.
Maybe this means setting seemingly-impossible deadlines for ourselves.
Sometimes we’ll wait forever with such important things in our lives that will never happen until we make them happen.
Maybe this means setting alerts to ourselves (just like a tweet or a message) that constantly prompts us to work on the Paramount and to be reminded of the deadlines we have set for ourselves.
Maybe this means just approaching our tasks differently. And not worrying about how much work something is, just deciding how much time you want to devote to it.
By starting with this, I believe we can all achieve some insanely great, Paramount things.