Work expands to fill the time available to complete it. If you have an hour to finish a blog post, it will take you an hour. If you have two hours, it will take you two hours.
This is Parkinson’s Law.
We can hack the law to work in our favor by limiting the amount of time we give to any one task.
For example, what if you allotted 30 minutes to finish a blog post that would normally take you an hour? That’s 30 minutes of free time you’ve just created in your day. If you can do this on all your daily tasks, you could cut your work day in half. That means more time for friends, spending time outside, reading, surfing, family—whatever makes you happy.
But, if the same blog post could possibly take one hour, or even two hours, how can you finish it in just 30 minutes?
The fact that the time a task takes is flexible, depending on how much time you have, means there is slack time that can be eliminated. What is slack time? It could be time spent procrastinating or daydreaming about the task, or making the task overly-complicated, or trying to multitask while working, or just working at a relaxed pace because you have hours to spend on it.
We tend to spend a lot of our time thinking about what we need to do, avoiding doing it, and working on small related tasks, before we finally sit down and do the work. Giving yourself a tight deadline forces you to skip all the time-wasting and procrastination and get right to work.
If you give yourself 30 minutes to finish the blog post, you demand focus, speed, efficiency, and accuracy of yourself. Parkinson’s Law says, yes, you can finish that blog post in 30 minutes.
At some point, which you’ll need to determine for yourself, the quality of work drops, which defeats the purpose, but giving yourself a tight deadline is a great strategy for getting work done.
How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Work Faster and Smarter
Step 1. Choose a task that you need to work on. It can be a blog post, getting a batch of pitches written and sent off, doing research for an article, outlining your weekly to-dos, creating invoices, etc.
Step 2. Determine how long that task would normally take you.
Step 3. Give yourself less time to complete it. If something normally takes an hour, you could give yourself 45 minutes. If you want to try for 30 minutes, go for it.
Step 4. Set a timer. Keep yourself accountable to your new goal by setting a timer. You probably have one on your mobile phone or nearest gadget. If not, you can use a kitchen timer, or, in a pinch, just a clock. But a timer is nice because you can focus on your task without watching the clock.
Step 5. Get to work. Put your head down and get to work. Don’t take time to daydream, don’t think about other things you’d like to be doing, don’t check your email, just work.
Step 6. Evaluate. When the time is up, evaluate your work. Did you finish? Did the quality suffer? Was that a realistic time to complete your task? If no, adjust. If yes, celebrate. You just cut down your work day and made more free time for yourself.Have you applied Parkinson’s Law to your own writing work? How did it go? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by Jon Ottoson via Unsplash