“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
How many minutes to do you have to read this right now? Are you leisurely strolling through some of your favorite webpages? …At home or at work? Should you be doing work instead?
Cyril Northcote Parkinson is responsible for coining the concept that the work required for a given task will expand – becoming bigger and more complex – the more time there is for that work to be done. Too much available time can either cause us to make the task more complicated, with more parts, or allow the task to overtake our mind, causing stress surrounding the need to just complete the task.
Say, for example, that you have to get a project proposal to your boss by the end of the week. Or, maybe you have to weed your perennial beds. These tasks could take two hours, but it’s the beginning of the week, and they’re on your mental to-do list. Subconsciously, you know they won’t take all week, so you do other things that are more of a priority, all the while feeling like you should get that project proposal done or garden weeded…but you still have time to do it before Friday, or before your guests arrive, right?
Parkinson’s Law goes hand-in-hand with the dreaded procrastination. We postpone doing certain things because certain other things are more enjoyable, not seen as “work.” This is normal. So here are some tips for working smarter (rather than harder) to overcome the principle of Parkinson’s Law:
- Mindfully write the amount of time it will take to complete the tasks on your “To Do” list. Allow yourself this time divided in half.
- Set a timer for yourself to complete a given task, and respect it like you would a deadline from your superior.
- Work early in the morning or later at night when there are fewer distractions present (bright daylight communicates “activity” to the brain).
- Use deadlines within your environment: when the library/coffee shop/office closes, when your phone/computer battery runs out, or when a given hour (5 pm sharp!) rolls around.
- Limit those time-filling tasks – such as checking email, social media, and your favorite holistic living online community – to five or ten minutes at the beginning and end of the day, after completing necessary items.
So, if you’re reading this, and thinking of something else that should be more of a priority, Parkinson’s Law tells me that it won’t really take you long to complete. And maybe you’ll have more reason to just finish the work now in half the time…