If your tasks and projects seem to run right up to the final deadline, you aren’t alone. Parkinson’s Law states that your work expands to fill the time allotted for it. “How long will that report take?” your boss asks. “How long do I have?” you might respond. Bingo. Parkinson’s Law is a nemesis of productivity.
Parkinson’s Law Ate My Assignment
In college Parkinson’s Law was my adversary and I didn’t even realize it. I knew for weeks that a paper was due. Yet time and again I found myself putting the finishing touches on at the last possible moments.
Could I have planned better? Sure. No argument there. Did I procrastinate a little? Guilty.
However, the bigger issue was that I didn’t define the time I would work on a paper. Simply, it needed to be done by the stated deadline – maybe two months away.
To be clear, these papers didn’t require two months, but I allowed them to fill up the time allotted for them.
The Effects of Parkinson’s Law on Productivity
Which of your tasks, projects, or honey-do chores have swelled well beyond an acceptable timeline? What else could you have done if that item was already crossed off your task list?
Parkinson’s Law keeps us from being efficient. We become perfectionistic and tinker with details because we can. Or, maybe you aren’t a perfectionist. Maybe you put off the task under the guise of being too busy. Now it’s crunch time, anxiety is running high, and you embrace the thrill of the last minute push.
What If You Confronted the Law?
What would happen if you shrunk the time you had to get a task or project done?
Likely you’d still get it done. Likely you would still do a great job too.
So how can we mitigate the impact of Parkinson’s Law by confronting it? The answer is to define our timelines.
How To Seize Parkinson’s Law
In order to seize Parkinson’s Law, you will need to implement one of these three proven strategies (or all 3).
1. Establish self-imposed time hacks.
You must define your own time hacks. Like setting short-term goals, establish when you will have chunks of the project complete. Perhaps even set a self-imposed deadline so the task is done with plenty of time to spare.
Do keep in mind that we tend to underestimate how long a project will take. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, recommends adding 50% to your expected completion time.
2. Define your time on task.
Get clear on how long you will work on a given project. That might mean the whole thing. Or you may choose to work on it for two hours today.
Ask yourself, how much time will I devote to the project? When will I begin? When will I have it completed?
3. Ship It Anyway
“Ship it” is a Seth Godin phrase. The intent is not to let the pursuit for perfection keep you from ever completing the task. This aligns with other’s promotions of the “minimum viable product” idea. If you wait until the product is perfect before you “ship it,” you’ll never make money, change lives, or impact the world.
Sometimes you need to remind yourself that “good enough” really is good enough. When you hit your deadline, you ship. Simple as that.
Seize Parkinson’s Law & Reclaim Your Time
If you’re tired of feeling like there’s never enough time, maybe you need to define your timeline. You’ll be more efficient with the time you do have. You’ll still get the most important things done. You’ll meet your final deadlines. And you will have more time to tackle other priorities. Stop drowning in your to-do list, define your time, and prevent Parkinson’s Law from thrashing your productivity.