Parkinson's Law

At the time of writing this, it’s 7:45pm and I’m tucked away in the corner of my favorite coffee shop down the street, laptop open, with a hot coffee at my side.

Up until now, my entire day has been consumed by answering coaching emails, transferring files over to my new laptop (one clumsy hand movement and a few badly placed splashes of tea sent my previous one to the trash bin – R.I.P), as well as completing a few other small projects that needed finishing.

I’m fairly tired and my work day is winding down, but my Monday schedule also has “write 1 blog post” marked down on my list of tasks. And since I’m all about creating schedules and sticking to them, I know I have to get this done.

The only challenge is that at 8:30pm I’ll be meeting some friends for our weekly poker game and a few slices of pizza (don’t worry, it fits my macros), which means that I only have about 45 minutes to get this article done.

It’s not much time at all to write a full blog post (these usually take me at least 3 hours each), but I’m confident that I’ll finish it up just fine.

Since I know that I’ll end up in bed right after collecting my poker winnings and heading home, this 45 minute window is the only opportunity I have to complete this task and ensure that I stay on track with my work schedule.

With that sense of “urgency” in place, my brain is literally forced into full-gear and I’m left with NO choice other than to be as productive as humanly possible with the minimal amount of time that I have available.

But the very interesting this is this…

If I had sat down to write this post knowing that I had 4 hours to write it rather than only 45 minutes, it would almost certainly take me the full 4 hours to complete.

The quality wouldn’t be any higher – it would simply take me longer to finish based purely off of the fact that I’d know there was more time available to do it.

This is known as Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

In other words, if you have a particular task to do along with a specific time frame to finish it in, you’ll naturally “diffuse” the completion of the task throughout the entire period.

Even if you were fully capable of finishing it quicker, you’d still use up the entire time frame regardless.

You’d work at a slower pace without even realizing it…

You’d allow yourself to become more easily distracted by email, social media and text messages…

You’d unnecessarily analyse and over-analyse each step along the way…

And you’d just plain sit there staring off into space at frequent intervals convincing yourself that you’re “thinking about it” when in reality all you’re really doing is wasting time.

This is probably some sort of evolutionary brain mechanism put in place to conserve energy, but in any case, it’s a crucial concept to understand if you want to get more done in less time and be as efficient as possible in every aspect of your life.

When you set hard deadlines for yourself and create situations where you must get this done in this period of time, you’ll be absolutely amazed at how much faster you’re able to work, and you’ll very quickly realize that you’re capable of FAR more than you think.

Not only will the quality of your work NOT suffer, but in many cases it will actually increase since you won’t find yourself constantly bogged down in the insignificant details and will instead allow your natural creativity to flow more easily.

Parkinson’s Law could apply to anything, such as completing a workout, finishing a project for your business or work, a school task, or any other number of random day to day “to do’s” that you find on your schedule.


I mean seriously…

That paper you need to write that you’ve been putting off for days…

If someone was standing in front of you with a loaded gun pointing straight at your head, prepared to blow your brains out if you didn’t write it in the next 5 hours (and write it well at that), can you honestly say that you wouldn’t be able to get it done?

Or on the other extreme, if someone was holding a cheque for one million dollars and was prepared to hand it to you if you completed your leg workout with full effort and intensity within 45 minutes, would you still stand around talking, texting and generally screwing around between sets?

Or would you fully buckle down, waste zero time, totally absorb yourself in the task at hand and perform it to the very best of your ability as quickly as possible?

I think we both know the answer.

And if that’s the case, it’s proof positive that, just like most people, you’re actually operating well below your true maximum potential most of the time without even realizing it.

You might think you had a productive day because you crossed everything off your “to do” list, but what if you could have gotten those same to-do’s done in half the time? Or kept the time frame the same but completed double the work?

Again, just envision that “gun to the head” or “million dollar cheque” scenario, and if you’re honest with yourself, most of the time you probably could have.

Applying this way of thinking has two potential benefits…

First off, it could simply mean that you end up getting more done for the day in general.

If you’re aiming to maximize your overall ouput and fit in as many tasks as possible in order to get ahead, obviously this is beneficial and will hugely accelerate the speed at which you reach your goals.

Secondly, it could mean that you get the same number of tasks completed but in a much shorter time frame.

Set those deadlines for yourself and finish your work tasks, school projects, training sessions or any other commitments you have in a fraction of the time like you’re almost certainly capable of doing, and you’ll be freeing up a TON of additional time to spend on the things you enjoy most.

Complete a given task in 4 hours rather than 7, and you’ve just freed up 3 more hours that you can now spend doing whatever you want, whether it be going out with friends, spending time with family or pursing other interests and hobbies you’d like to devote more time to.

Extrapolate those hours saved over the course of a year or more, and applying Parkinson’s Law truly can make a massive difference in how you live your life.

You’ll be freeing up massive reserves of the ONE thing you can never create more of, and spending less of it sitting around on drawn out tasks that don’t need to take nearly as long as they do.

For example, just 2 extra hours freed up per day would give you an additional 60 hours per month, or 730 hours per year, which equals out to 30 full 24-hour days.

more time

How should you apply Parkinson’s Law for the best results?

You’ll hear many different little “hacks” that you can use to employ this law effectively, such as…

– Heading out to work at a coffee shop that you know is closing in a short amount of time.

– Leaving your laptop charger at home to force yourself to work faster.

– Placing a bet with a friend, or just telling someone when you’re going to complete something in order to keep yourself accountable.

– Positioning a given task in close proximity to some other scheduled obligation you have to take care of.

These are all fine and can be useful, but in my opinion, just simply being aware of it is by far the most important step.

Once you really put this law into action, you’ll quickly discover just how perfectly capable you are of producing high quality work in a short time frame, and from there, you’ll always notice later on when you’re not being as productive as you could be.

hard work

Go ahead and give it a try for yourself.

Next time you have to tackle something that you previously assumed would take you 6 hours, imagine there’s a gun to your head and that you MUST complete it in half the time.

My prediction is that not only will you get it done, but the quality of work will be just as high, if not higher than normal, and you’ll then have a full 3 hours available that you can use to complete other work or to just relax and do whatever you’d like with it.

Applying this principle has made a huge difference in my life, and I’m confident that if you adopt it into yours it will make a huge difference too.

On that note, it’s a bit before 8:25pm and it’s time for some poker and pizza.

Talk to you again soon.

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  • pburgraider

    solid write up…hope you did well at the poker game.