How to be productive by using Parkinson’s Law?

How to be productive by using Parkinson’s Law?

Before we begin, remember this: Be kind to yourself and your mistakes.

Productivity is not something which can be achieved overnight. You have to cultivate your habits – both good and bad and to be consistent over the long run.

Small adjustments will lead to more lasting changes, but those may take time and discipline.

There is something called Parkinson’s Law, which you can use for your advantage. Let us see what this tells us about.

What is Parkinson’s Law?

Let me tell you a story which you are very familiar with.

Back when I was in college, our teacher gave us the assignment to finish within a month. I was a massive procrastinator that time and since the deadline was so far away, I didn’t even think about starting. Instead, I decided to spend my time playing video games.

Days passed and the deadline was coming closer and closer, but I hadn’t written a single word. The day arrived when I realized that I have to submit the assignment tomorrow morning. Then I realized the deadline was so close that I might not be able to finish in time. This is when I went into full-on panic mode.

With only one day in my hand, I started writing with pure focus. Finishing my assignment was my number one priority and everything else became secondary. And thankfully, in the end, I managed to submit the assignment the next day on time, and yeah for the cost of my sleep.

Let me introduce to Parkinson’s Law

The law states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This might sound a bit confusing at first, let me explain what it means.
If someone gives you one week to mow their lawn, it will take you a whole week to do it.
If they gave you one month, it will take you one month.
And if they give you one year to do it, then eventually, it will take you one whole year.

Basically, the more time you have to complete something, the longer it will take you to finish it. And the less time you have to complete your goal, the more likely it is that you will complete it in a given time.

Parkinson's Law
Graphical representation of Parkinson’s Law

The above graph clearly explains that our effort rises when the time to finish that task is less.

But if a goal or a task doesn’t have a deadline, it is more likely never get done.

Whenever we have something to complete, whether it’s a college assignment or preparing a presentation, we make a mistake by thinking that the more time we gave ourselves to complete it, the better the end result will be. However, most of that time is spent on procrastinating and only a small portion of it is spent on the things we want to achieve.

If someone gave you one month to mow a lawn, it will probably take you 29 days before you even begin, because you know that it could be completed within a single day. So that’s 29 days of procrastinating because you know you have more than enough time before you get started.

The same thing happened with my college assignment. Most of the time was spent doing other things and only a small portion of the time was spent on writing. If I would have given, let’s say, a week for my assignment then I would have sufficient time to complete it with ease.

You can think of a deadline as a fire.
When the deadline is far, that fire is small. It doesn’t threaten your life yet, that’s why you don’t extinguish it right away. However, that fire gets bigger and bigger as the deadline gets closer and closer.

What exactly happens at that time is, the fire has gotten so big that your whole house might burn down. And now you don’t have any other choice but to extinguish it as fast as possible. So that becomes your primary focus. During such time you don’t procrastinate and waste your time on unimportant things like scrolling through Instagram or Twitter. Nor you think about playing video games.

In other words, as the deadline comes so close, as your fire becomes so big, you prioritize your tasks much better. You can’t afford to procrastinate or get lost in unimportant things like most people tend to do. You are fully focused on that fire.

The Parkinson’s Law is important to be conscious about, from the productivity and time management perspective. The law was stated by a British naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson who noted that as bureaucracy expanded, they became more inefficient. He then applied this observation to a variety of other circumstances realizing that, as the size of something increased, its efficiency dropped.

Most common mistake people do about Parkinson’s Law –

If you want to learn Spanish in two years, then you will most likely learn it in two years. However, if the same person decides to learn Spanish in six months, then it will happen in six months. It won’t happen that you make a wish to learn a new language every week and expect miracles to happen.

If you know something will take a week to complete, then don’t set the deadline for tomorrow. This is something most people do when they first hear about Parkinson’s Law. You can still try to push yourself to a certain extend knowing about your limits. So, next time when you think about how much time to allocate for a particular task keep in mind that Parkinson’s Law is at the play.

Now, whether your deadline is too short or too far away, it’s still better than no deadline at all. Remember, if there is no deadline, your goal will probably never be achieved. So if you don’t have a fire that’s getting bigger, make sure you create one.

How you can be more productive by using Parkinson’s Law?

So, here you can see there is a great benefit to know how Parkinson’s Law works because you can be more productive and efficient. I want to share five strategies of how to take advantage of Parkinson’s Law.

  1. Break down your tasks and goals

    Parkinson’s Law will always hit you hard when you have numerous tasks with faraway deadlines. The best way to fix this is to break down your big tasks into smaller bite-sized tasks. And if you have a big goal, then set out milestones for them.

    For example, if you want to write 120 blog posts in a year, then you can put it off for later and instead you can set a milestone of writing 10 blog posts per month. Or you can further aim for writing one blog post every three days. By following such little milestones, you will make sure that you are not falling behind your main plan.


  2. Knowing when a task gets “Done”

    The more perfectionist you are, the more likely the task won’t get done. Many a time, you feel that there is always that one more thing to add. So, you should be clear about the outcome of your task before doing it.

    So, instead of saying that I will complete a blog post today, be precise and say that I will write so and so topics for my blog post today. In this way, you will see your productivity increase.


  3. Minimize Overwhelm

    Sometimes you make your to-do list so long that you don’t know where to start. This is a big mistake because you will be feeling overwhelmed and end up getting nothing done. You should be smart to decide what things you put in your list to be as productive as possible.

    I suggest you segregate your list with the most important task for the day at the top with deadlines and then moving on to less important activities.

    Do you struggle to get started with your tasks even if its important? If yes then don’t worry, you are not alone. Refer this article – “Why do I struggle to start new tasks?”


  4. Challenge yourself

    When you have a tight deadline, it forces your brain to figure out the ways to get done in the time available.

    If you miss your bus to the work and instead of waiting for the next one you decided to walk, then you might discover that it actually takes less time for you to walk to your office instead of taking a bus, because of the traffic in the mornings. The goal here with challenging yourself is to continuously improve and find better ways of doing your tasks.


  5. Know what’s next

    I have experienced this by myself many times. I will have my last task on the list that is to review today’s content and send feedback to my team. It will hardly take 20 minutes but this single task will take me an hour or more to complete. The reason for is that I don’t have next thing on my list.

    So you have to be self-aware before entering the last task on the list. Always make sure you know what’s your next activity is going to be.

I hope that these strategies will help you to get more things done in less time and to be more productive than before.

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