Lately I have been reading Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week (of which I will write more later in a book review) and was inspired by his rendition of the Pareto Law and Parkinson’s Law. The former states that 80% of results come from 20% of causes, and the latter that the importance and complexity of any tasks grows the more time is given to it. According to Ferriss, this means that you should ask yourself a series of questions, including:
1. What 20% of people are the source of 80% of your problems and the cause of depression, anger, etc.?
2. What 20% of people are the source of 80% of your successes and the cause of joy, happiness, etc.?
3. If you could only work two hours a day, what things would you do?
4. If you could only finish two things today that would make the day a success, what would they be?
The power of these suggestions had never really hit me until this week after a number of events at work.
For one, I have a 30 minute meeting with a coworker every morning to go over some complex problems that require deeper investigation. We do not get along very well together and dealing with her is the most stressful part of my day as I never know if I’m catching her on a good day or bad day. She also has extremely high standards and can go from words of praise to words of condemnation with lighting speed. However, she also recently canceled our daily meetings saying that we needed to reevaluate the purpose behind them. I had been thinking about how to discuss this with her and reinstate the meeting, but realized that according to Ferriss’ guidelines I should count this as a blessing. The one person who gives me the most angst decides to leave me alone? I should only be so lucky! I will gladly take hours from the ‘stress induced ulcer’ part of my life and move it to the ‘life is glorious’ part.
Second, I often feel bogged down at work by the large number of complex tasks that I have to do. Even, worse, they only fall into three categories! Ideally I would be able to stop doing 80% of these tasks and focus on the 20% that matter, but with only three priorities it’ll be transparently obvious that I’m ditching work in any of them and I’ll get dinged for it on my performance review. That being said, using Parkinson’s law I might be able to manage work better if I focus on accomplishing only the two most complex tasks in any given day, and one of these in the first two hours of the morning before my meetings start. If I succeed, I not only get a sense of accomplishment, but I’ll start chipping away at that granite block of work that weighs me down.
Moreover, if Parkinson’s theory is right, that allowing more time for a task only wastes more and more energy, this gives me extra reason to leave work at four and not bring my computer home with me. If I’m being timed for a given task, and I can’t work on it over night, I’ll need to focus and work extra hard to wrap it up before going home.*
Hopefully, by combining and building on all three of these things I can start shaping my work life to suite my interests and still get things done. Given how useful Ferriss’ book has been for me, you will definitely hear more on the subject.
*Coincidentally, my manager also just revoked my ability to work from home one day a week, despite this being promised in the job interview and in subsequent one-on-one meetings with her. It’s not be entirely her fault as I know our departmental VP is extremely strict on people being in the office if they have a cube reserved for them (not that I ever asked for one…). I’m not going to work over-time on their priorities if they aren’t inclined to work with me on mine!