Avoid Working Too Hard, Too Long, and Wasting Your Time, with Parkinson’s Law

I set myself a few days to work on a short video and blog post that I would share on my personal social media page on Facebook and on this blog.

The first few days, I sorted through different blog post ideas I had written down in a list, picked my favourites and sorted those. I didn’t make much progress.

The final day, today, I started writing notes and outlines for a couple of them. I did some research too. I focused first on what I found to be a very nebulous topic of “How To Get To A Decision Point In Your Life”. The second idea I worked on was what amounted to a collection of notes from YouTube videos on the topic of “Jordan Peterson on The Importance of Having a Daily Routine”.

As I was working on this, I knew that this whole project was taking too long. I knew that while I was working very hard on putting ideas together, I didn’t want to make a 10-minute video with graphics, slides, and clips from other related YouTube videos. This would simply take too long.

Yet, I kept working on all of that detailed work. Why? Because I had the time to do so. I really did not have much else planned but to work on this project for the second half of the day.

Finally, I decided to do a short YouTube video, off-the-cuff, about what I head learned in taking on this short project.

The whole video project was an excellent example of Parkinson’s Law at work:

Parkinson’s Law is the adage that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’

— Wikipedia

This project was taking me so long because I gave myself all of that time to work on it.

As the day’s sunlight grew dimmer, and my opportunity to film outside was slipping away, I simply decided to get outside and make a short video about this very principle.

And here it is:

The lesson:

If you want to work as efficiently as some of the most productive people out there, challenge yourself to get things done in as short a time as possible while still fulfilling the criteria you’ve set for the task.

Then, you can move onto the next task or project, and seek to achieve that efficiently as well.

Doing something over and over again, and aiming to improve just a little bit (even 1% or 0.5%) each time, will lead to far better results and help you get a lot more done than doing something perfectly the first time (and taking a very long time to do it).

No Matter What You’re Facing, Someone Has Been There Before

A problem occurred to me while I was at the gym today, thinking about the strength goals I want to hit and what I want my physique to look like in the future.

I was reflecting on how I want to be strong, have 6-pack abs, and be in the best shape of my life. I want the discipline to go to the gym regularly, to eat correctly, to get enough sleep, and do the exercises with proper form so that I don’t injure myself.

Here are some strength and fitness goals that I have:

  • 5×5 3-plates squat (315 lbs.)
  • 5×5 2-plates bench press (225 lbs.)
  • 1×5 4-plates deadlift (405 lbs.)
  • 5×5 1-plate overhead press (135 lbs.)
  • 3×10 chin-to-bar bodyweight chinups
  • 3×10 chin-to-bar bodyweight pullups
  • Sub-15% body fat such that I will have 6-pack abs
4hb beast

I find this picture from The 4-Hour Body pretty inspirational.

Back to the problem I mentioned:

As I thought about these goals, I began to think about all of the barriers I would have to surmount in order to get there.

  • I would have to find a way to go to the gym 3 times per week, even while doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 2-3 times a week, and do it in a way where 1) I don’t get injured, and 2) I don’t wimp out and take it easy while in the gym (plateauing just above 2-plates for a squat, for example and staying there). I’d have to really push myself to failure and then fail multiple times before deloading, as Stronglifts outlines.
  • I’d have to eat correctly, in the right amounts, with the right food, in a way that’s sustainable. (Largely I would be applying the advice from Eric Helms in this YouTube video series on weight lifters’ nutrition and the 8 simple nutrition rules by Mehdi at StrongLifts).
  • This requires a whole new set of skills and habits:
    1. Knowing what macronutrient and total caloric intake I should be aiming for (just enough to lose fat while still supporting my training and activities and getting enough protein to build and recover muscle).
    2. Habitually measuring my food and preparing it in such a way that I know what I’m putting in my body.
    3. Finding the right foods to fit these macros while meeting my needs for taste and variety, and also getting the micronutrients that I need (minerals and vitamins).
    4. Prepare all of this food myself, without relying on my mom to cook any of it (as I am currently living with my parents and mostly eat my mom’s cooking).
    5. Tracking and measuring my Total Inches (arms, legs, waist, etc. summed up) and my body fat percentage (using body fat callipers) to regularly check on my progress. Maybe even taking before photos as motivation and a record for the future.
    6. Habitually getting enough sleep to recover from my BJJ or lifting sessions 5-6 days per week (8-9 hours per night).
    7. Mentally getting over the hurdle of fearing injuring myself by doing too much, or by pushing myself in the gym.
    8. Losing motivation, thinking “why am I doing this?” after the weights start to get heavy, and things get hard.
    9. Being able to sustain this habit over a long period of time, dealing with other issues and contingencies as they come up along the way.

I might be overcomplicating it, but I believe that if I have big goals in fitness, I’m going to have to handle all of the above issues and more.

I wondered how on earth I would do this, and then thought to myself: “You know what? Other people have done this, and I’m going to do it too. The answers to any problems or challenges I have are out there. I just have to find them and do what they did. I don’t need to re-invent the wheel.”

And so all of these individual challenges and barriers, if well-defined, can be researched, inquired about (on strength training forums, for example), and overcome. The solution is to learn from other people’s experiences and apply what worked for them to my own situation.

Whatever your problem is, don’t re-invent the wheel. If you have a barrier in front of you, it’s very likely that a lot of people have been in your exact same position, had the exact same difficulties and challenges, and have overcome them through some simple (maybe counterintuitive) process. Find them, learn from them, and find out exactly what works for you as you move towards your goals.

This is a mindset you can use to stay optimistic and keep moving forward, no matter what obstacle you find in your way.