Parkinson’s Law

Definition

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Simply, the amount of time you have to complete a task is how long it will take to finish it.

Say you had a task that should take a couple of hours, but you have given yourself five hours to accomplish it, you will spend those five hours anyway. You may use the time to investigate, research, or procrastinate, but the task’s outcome is the same, even though you gave yourself twice the time necessary to complete it.

Why Use It

Knowing that time is malleable, be mindful when setting goals for yourself. Recognize that extending the amount of time something will take might counterintuitively result in no difference in quality.

When to Use It

When folks are confronted with scarcity, they are more likely to think unconventionally. So, adding constraints could make you more creative than you’d have been otherwise, and might result in a better outcome.

While uncomfortable at first, designing constraints helps get tasks done more quickly and eliminates an amorphous set of expectations without any milestones.

How to Use It

Find ways to incorporate it into your productivity toolkit and as a way to engage with your creativity more healthily.

Since the amount of time for a task will take the entire amount of time allotted, you can be opportunistic with your own goals and reduce the time you’ve allocated for any job. By giving yourself an ambitious timeline, you will complete the work in less time.

How to Misuse It

Don’t push yourself to finish a task on an aggressive timeline that is unrealistic. Some things take a few hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Be truthful with yourself about your capacity to complete work.

Next Step

Block chunks of time out for tasks you have come up with and set smart and challenging due dates.

Where it Came From

The law was named after Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian who coined the term as part of an essay published in The Economist in 1955. He noted that as bureaucracies grow, they became less efficient. Over time his writing was translated into many languages and became popular in the Soviet Union.

What Are Mental Models?

Mental models are thinking tools that help guide and shape our perceptions of the world. They simplify complexity so we can understand life better, make decisions confidently, and solve problems.

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