One of the best pieces of advice I heard at South by Southwest 2011 was that “work expands to fill time.” This gem was one from the I’m So Productive, I Never Get Anything Done session with David Carr, Anthony De Rosa, Molly McAleer and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The session promised, “Most of us work alone in a room, armed with a desktop that is more powerful — and distracting — than entire offices a decade ago, and yet the actual throughput of an average day can be negligible. Let’s talk to some people who have actually done things — written books, built businesses, created technology — about their process. Do they have a clear, bright line between consuming media and producing it? Is it best to have multiple streams on one screen or toggle between to stay on task? Do they have a day part when they are off the grid? And why do great ideas come in the shower? Let’s figure out whether the Web is the greatest productivity tool ever invented or a destroyer of initiative and long thoughts.”
The actual session didn’t live up to the promise (it involved more ranting and commiserating that actual tips), but if you paid close attention there were some solutions and suggestions. For example, at the beginning of the week or the day, write a quick list of what you want to accomplish. Find a way to categorize what must be accomplished and what is a bit more flexible. Have an estimated deadline.
As Adrienne May wrote on Twitter, “if I have 3 wks to do something it will take 3 wks, if i have 3 days I can get it done in 3 days.” This was true for Adrienne while she was in school and still rings true now at the office.
“I work best under the pressure of a deadline,” she wrote.
If your office doesn’t have solid deadlines, create your own! But be realistic.
Also, knowing your limitations will help you. Do you work best in the morning? Schedule as few distractions as possible then. Night owl? Block out time to work on your novel before bed.