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January 17, 2021

How I Wrote a 2.5k-Word Essay in 4 Hours

This week, I had an essay deadline to meet.

I had given a teaching session a while back as part of my PGCert in Medical Education, and now I had to cough up a 2.5k word essay, critically reflecting on my lesson using principles of education theory.

I had originally left myself adequate room to get it done, but after several 12-hour on-call shifts at the hospital, I was left in a predicament.

It was Wednesday night, I had another on-call shift on Thursday, and my essay was due on Friday midday.

I had 2 options: Get it done OR ask for an extension...

Parkinson's Law

selective focus photo of brown and blue hourglass on stones
"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".

During medical school, whenever I'd start a project early, I still ended up working on it right up to the deadline. I would naturally procrastinate and spread the work over all the time I had to get it done,

Parkinson's law had abused my time at medical school. But not this time. Now, I'd be doing the abusing.

A week before the deadline, I told my friend that I'd leave only 4 days to complete the essay.

The thought process behind my strategy was clear: I wanted to leave the project as close to the deadline as possible, leaving no room for procrastination.

If I had left several weeks for the project, I'd have spent maybe 5x or 10x the amount of time on it,  because the work would have expanded to the time I had allotted to it.

In order to work on the essay productively and save time for my other projects, I planned to use Parkinson's law to my advantage.

Note: For all students reading this, I don't recommend leaving important projects till the last minute. This essay, to my own judgement, was not significantly important; I simply had to pass.

With the deadline coming up on Friday, on Sunday evening, I looked at my calendar.

I thought I had 4 days free to get the essay done. However, I forgot that I had stupidly signed up for several 12-hour locum shifts (where you fill the gaps in a rota) at my hospital on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. That only left Wednesday free.

Worse, it was too last-minute to back out of them.

I told myself I'd get most of it done on Wednesday.

However, I felt incredibly groggy after my covid vaccination (an expected side effect), only managing to flesh out a simple skeleton for my essay along with some chores before calling it a day.

"How much have you done?" asked my friend, again.

"None of it." I said. "But, I'll do it in on Thursday evening. Parkinson's Law bro."

"What the hell does that mean?"

He didn't get it.

I felt back to my usual self on Thursday, but as I got home from work, I slumped on the sofa and watched Top Gear, thinking to myself whether or not I should just call it a night and ask for an extension.

No.

I still believed that it was possible to get it done.

I'd been writing articles regularly for almost a year now, so writer's block wouldn't be a problem. Plus, I had already planned a frame for the essay. More importantly, I wanted to prove to my friend that I'd get it done.

Yet, I remained on the fence. I needed a final push, a second wind.

Social Accountability

Thursday 10pm, the night before my deadline: I had an idea.

I'd been using social accountability to my advantage for the last year to stick to habits and routines, so could it work here?

Publicly announcing to people that I'm going to do something has helped me to consistently publish weekly blog posts and youtube videos.

So, I decided to tell my Instagram followers about my plan to complete the essay on time, asking them through an interactive poll: "Do you think I can do it?"

Over 1,000 people saw the post, and the majority said 'Yes'.

Now, if I failed, I'd have let down those who believed in me and proven my doubters to be correct.

I had created some melodramatic social accountability, and they expected to hear a result from me one way or the other.

That was all I needed to tip myself over the fence and get to work.

At approximately 10.30pm, I went from 0 words to 2,500 words in just 4 hours, finishing at 2.30am.

I don't think I've ever written so much in such little time.

Plus, I did it after a long, gruelling medical shift.

It was done.

I posted a screenshot of the word count to my followers, my reward for proving what some said wasn’t possible.

The real trophy, however, was that I proved it to myself.

Takeaways

  1. I often hear the opinion that much of what is said in productivity spheres is obvious, unhelpful fluff. However, I’ve just shared 2 gems that are completely free to use by all. And, once you understand the base principles behind them, you can creatively mix and apply them into your own life.
  2. One productivity 'hack' might not be enough to help you achieve your goal. But, what if you stacked them up? In this case, I used Parkinson's Law to save time and social accountability to ensure the work got done. Stack them up!
  3. A situation like mine might seem like a 'crazy one-off', but only if you allow it to be. Instead, use those crazy 'one-off' moments as a realisation of what you're capable of doing. I'm not saying operate at 110% all the time, that would be unhealthy and unsustainable, but, know that you're capable of pulling it out the bag when needed. The more you repeat these situations, the easier they progressively become, raising the bar on what you can achieve.
Note: If I fail this essay, this blog post will self-terminate.

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