Give yourself just five minutes to read this article and jot down a few action items that will help you become more productive. Why? Because, according to Parkinson’s Law, the less time you give yourself to complete a task, the faster you’ll get it done.
Parkinson’s Law is based on a statement made by British historian and author Cyril Northcote Parkinson. The idea comes from a 1955 article he wrote for The Economist. He later turned that quip into an entire book titled, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.
Parkinson observed that, when people are given a task, the "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."
To be more productive and get more done in your daily life, you can simply assign yourself less time to get tasks done.
At first, this may seem impossible. However, if you break your daily responsibilities down into manageable tasks and assign short time intervals to get them done, you just might surprise yourself.
For example, it used to take me around three hours to get through all my emails each day.
I thought I had set a goal – “Read, respond to or archive all emails.” – but I didn’t realize how long it was taking me to get this task done until I imposed a deadline on myself. Now, I can manage all of my emails within an hour and a half of every day.
I save a ton of time and get a lot more done.
A Variation on a Theme
The fact of the matter is that Parkinson’s Law is just another flavor of a familiar discipline in business: setting goals. By specifying the amount of time that you’ll take to accomplish something, you’re effectively setting a goal.
If you set a tighter deadline for each of your tasks, what will likely happen is that you’ll be inspired to find a way to meet those deadlines. That may involve delegating some tasks, finding a way to work more efficiently or simply applying the requisite level of diligence to the task, but chances are you’ll find a way to be more efficient and meet your timed goals.
How can you apply Parkinson’s Law to your own work?
First, make a list of the tasks you need to accomplish this week. Then, think about how much time it will take to accomplish each of those tasks in an average day. Cut the time you’ve set for each task in half.
Once you begin your work, you’ll find you’re in a race against the clock. That’s exactly what you want because it will inspire you to win.
When you’re done with the work week, take a look back and see how you’ve fared. Did you inflate the time required for some tasks? Did you work smart instead of hard?
Go through the process again the following week, learning from the first week. There may be some tasks that you simply can’t cut hours on or some that you can cut even more time from. Adjust your schedule accordingly.
Then, eliminate time-fillers that don’t contribute to your productivity. Do you spend too much time on email? Are you easily distracted by phone calls you don’t need to take? Could the calls you do take be shorter?
Parkinson’s Law is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Understand it and use it to accomplish more in your day-to-day work.