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How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage

How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. If you’re into productivity, you’ll know this proverb as Parkinson’s Law. This interesting statement was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the famous British historian and author, in 1955 – first appearing as the opening line in an article for The Economist and later becoming the focus of one of Parkinson’s books, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.

Parkinson was qualified to make such a statement, having worked in the British Civil Service, seeing first hand how bureaucracy ticks. Bureaucracy itself is a by-product of our culture, thanks to the limiting belief that working harder is somehow better than working smarter and faster.

Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time available for its completion – means that if you give yourself a week to complete a two hour task, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting so as to fill that week. It may not even fill the extra time with more work, but just stress and tension about having to get it done. By assigning the right amount of time to a task, we gain back more time and the task will reduce in complexity to its natural state.

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I once read a response to Parkinson’s Law insinuating that if it were an accurate observation, one would be able to assign a time limit of one minute to a task and the task would become simple enough to complete within that minute. But Parkinson’s Law is exactly that – an observation, not some voodoo magic. It works because people give tasks longer than they really need, sometimes because they want some ‘leg room’ or buffer, but usually because they have an inflated idea of how long the task takes to complete. People don’t become fully aware of how quickly some tasks can be completed until they test this principle.

Most employees who defy the unwritten rule of “work harder, not smarter” know that, despite the greater return on investment for the company, it’s not always appreciated. That’s related to the idea that the longer something takes to complete, the better quality it must inherently be. Thankfully, the increasing trend of telecommuted employment is changing this for those lucky early adopters, but only because employers have no idea what you’re doing with all that spare time!

Let’s look at a few ways you can apply Parkinson’s Law to your life, get your to-do list checked off quicker and spend less of the work day filling in time just to look busy. This is relevant whether you work in an office or at home, since “work harder, not smarter” is a cultural idea that many individuals fall prey to even when nobody’s supervising their work.

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Running Against the Clock

Make a list of your tasks, and divide them up by the amount of time it takes to complete them. Then give yourself half that time to complete each task. You have to see making the time limit as crucial. Treat it like any other deadline. Part of reversing what we’ve been indoctrinated with (work harder, not smarter) is to see the deadlines you set for yourself as unbreakable – just like the deadlines your boss or clients set.

Use that human, instinctual longing for competition that fuels such industries as sports and gaming to make this work for you. You have to win against the clock; strive to beat it as if it were your opponent, without taking shortcuts and producing low-quality output. This is particularly helpful if you’re having trouble taking your own deadlines seriously.

At first, this will be partially an exercise in determining how accurate your time projections for tasks are. Some may be spot on to begin with, and some may be inflated. Those that are spot on may be the ones that you are unable to beat the clock with when you halve the time allotment, so experiment with longer times. Don’t jump straight back to the original time allotment because there may be an optimum period in between.

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If you work at a computer, a digital timer is going to be very useful when you start doing this. It’ll also save you a bit of time, because a timer allows you to see at a glance how much longer you have. Using your clock involves some addition and subtraction! There are free utilities available for OS X, Linux, and Windows.

Crush the Cockroaches of the Productivity World

Look for those little time-fillers, like email and feed reading, that you might usually think take ten or twenty (or even, god forbid, thirty!) minutes. These are the “cockroaches” of the productivity world – little pests that do nothing but make your life a pain in the backside, pains that you can’t seem to get rid no matter how much you run around the house with a shoe or bug spray.

Instead of doing the leisurely 20-30 minute morning email check, give yourself five minutes. If you’re up for a challenge, go one better and give yourself two minutes. Don’t give these tasks any more attention until you’ve completed everything on your to-do list that day, at which point you can indulge in some email reading, social networking and feed reading to your heart’s content. Not that I recommend you spend all your spare time that way!

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These are tasks where 10% of what you do is important and 90% is absolutely useless. This forces you to tend to the important tasks – feeds you need to read in order to improve in your work (for instance, if you’re a web designer who needs to be read up on new practices), and emails that are actually high-priority. Experiment with how far you can take this. Make your criteria for what makes an email important, really strict and the penalties harsh! That means using the Delete button, by the way – I’m not advocating violence against your colleagues.

You can experiment with Parkinson’s Law and squashing your deadlines down to the bare minimum in many areas of your life. Just be conscious of the line between ‘bare minimum’ and ‘not enough time’ – what you’re aiming for is a job well done in less time, not a disaster that’s going to lose you employment or clients.

More by this author

Joel Falconer

Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

Over the years here at Lifehack, we’ve discussed plenty of apps that you can use to improve your overall productivity.

There are certain ones that many of our contributors and editors (past and present) have adopted over the long-term — there are always the stalwarts that stick around. But there are also new apps that crop up every day, adding more and more depth to the app category.

Some of the apps are incredibly plain and simple, while others are more robust and offer more features than you can shake a stick at. And everyone has the one they prefer.

It’s been our job (and still is our job) to keep abreast of all of the productivity-type apps out there. As a result — and as a bit of a refresher — we’ve put together a list of 35 best productivity apps for iPhone (all categorized based on their functions) to provide you with an all-in-one resource for you.

For Getting Things Done

1. OmniFocus

This app is, while pricey, considered to be one of the (if not the) most robust and full-featured productivity apps on the market.

Download it here.

    2. Forest

    Train yourself to put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand by playing with this planting game. It’s fun and will help you achieve more.

    Download it here.

      3. Things

      Another robust choice, this app is a favorite amongst “productivityists”.[1]

      Download it here.

         

         

        4. Any.Do

        A beautiful-looking app that is both easy on the eyes and your wallet.

        Download it here.

          5. PocketLife Calendar

          This calendar app is specifically designed to be stylish and super easy-to-use. You can organize your life easily with different modern features.

          Download it here.

            6. Asana

            We’ve covered Asana here at Lifehack

            , and it is being actively developed by a strong team committed to making collaborative task management a more efficient and effective experience.

            Download it here.

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              7. ToDoist

              This app keeps track of everything – from simple errands to your most important projects – so you can get it all done and enjoy more peace of mind along the way.

              Download it here.

                 

                 

                8. Calendars 5

                This calendar app focuses on events that help you to keep track of upcoming events and tasks easily. It has everything you need to organize, track, and complete your to-dos.

                Download it here.

                  9. Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists

                  A fun and innovative list-making app that relies on swiping and pinching to make things happen. Clear created a lot of buzz when it launched, and might be the perfect to-do list gateway app for many.

                  Download it here.

                    10. Due

                    A robust reminders app that lets you store and maintain reminders of all types. It’s replaced Reminders for me when it comes to the basics, and it’s worth a look if you want to keep the mundane stuff out of your head and cluttering your mind.

                    Download it here.

                      11. Checkmark 2

                      I use this app

                      for location-based reminders (such as groceries I need to get or single items I need to pick up from various locations). Checkmark is simple to use and valuable addition to my productivity arsenal.

                      Download it here.

                        12. TeuxDeux

                        Created by Tina Roth Eisenberg and Fictive Kin — TeuxDeux is simple and incredibly stellar in terms of design. If you like lists (including the popular “Someday Bucket”) and want to associate dates with tasks, then TeuxDeux will be right up your alley.

                        Download it here.

                           

                           

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                          13. Nirvana

                          For the GTD enthusiasts, there’s Nirvana. Straight from the source: “Nirvana frees your mind to focus on actually getting things done. If you’ve had enough of generic to-do lists, it’s time for Nirvana.”

                          Download it here.

                            14. Priorities

                            An elegant-looking task management app that has received decent reviews,[2] this could be the one for you if you’re not a fan of OmniFocus or Things — especially if you need (or want) to share tasks with others.

                            Download it here.

                              For Building Habits

                              15. Productive

                              With this app, you can plan your habits with an easy-to-use interface, schedule habits for any time of the day, set smart reminders for each time of the day, and stay on track with useful feedback. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to build a habit that sticks.

                              Download it here.

                                16. Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager

                                You can complete tasks and build habits in a more fun way with this app. Input your Habits, your Daily goals, and your To-Do list, and then create a custom avatar. Check off tasks to level up your avatar and unlock features such as armor, pets, skills, and even quests.

                                Download it here.

                                  17. Streaks

                                  This app follows the model of the popular “don’t break the chain method” in that you use the app to track how you are donig in the pursuit of your goal. Great for goal-setting — and an easy and elegant interface to boot.

                                  Download it here.

                                    18. Remember The Milk

                                    Another popular to-do list app, Remember The Milk has a huge following. It has plenty to offer, including the ability to share tasks with others.

                                    Download it here.

                                      19. Day One Journal

                                      When it comes to journaling, nothing really beats Day One. Its latest update added a slew of features that will make you want to start making journaling a habit.

                                      Download it here.

                                        For Files Organization

                                        20. Evernote

                                        Touted as the world’s most widely-used productivity app, Evernote is an be used simply as a notetaking app or can be customized to be your GTD app of choice — among other things.

                                        Download it here.

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                                          21. Pocket

                                          You can save an article, video, or link you want to read or watch later to Pocket from anywhere including your computer, Safari, email, and your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Feedly.

                                          Download it here.

                                            22. Sync.Me

                                            This app identifies unknown phone calls, warns you from annoying spam calls, and adds a caller picture to your contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

                                            Download it here.

                                              23. Droplr

                                              One of the most popular file-sharing apps out there today. Straight from the source: “Stay productive on the go. Droplr for iPhone keeps you in sync and makes sharing on the iPhone natural.”

                                              Download it here.

                                                24. Dropbox

                                                Before iCloud, there was Dropbox. And there still is Dropbox, which is still widely used by both Mac and PC users all over the globe. It’s like having a flash drive on your iPhone. A must-have.

                                                Download it here.

                                                   

                                                  For Working Smarter

                                                  25. Captio

                                                  A simple capture tool. Straight from the developers: “It’s simple. Open Captio and start typing. When you’re done, hit Send. The note is immediately delivered to your email inbox.”

                                                  Download it here.

                                                    26. Drafts

                                                    A tremendous capture tool that allows for simple capture, followed by sending items to various applications such as OmniFocus, Things, and more.

                                                    Download it here.

                                                      27. NoteShelf 2

                                                      This is a perfect note-taking app for you. You can take beautiful handwritten notes, type, annotate PDFs, record audio & create lists. You can organize them into categories or groups.

                                                      Download it here.

                                                        28. Doodle

                                                        This app links directly with the Doodle service, which is one that allows you to plan and organize meetings far more efficiently and effectively. Lifehack contributor Steve Dotto has written about Doodle more in-depth here.

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                                                        Download it here.

                                                          29. TextExpander (Legacy)

                                                          I have saved countless hours of time with TextExpander, and despite its inability to be as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac, it is still a worthy app to have in your arsenal.

                                                          Download it here.

                                                            30. Launch Center Pro

                                                            A quick launcher for the iPhone that doesn’t just launch an app…with some of them it can do much more. This app saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.

                                                            Download it here.

                                                              31. GoodReader

                                                              This may seem to be an odd one to make this list, but here are plenty of reasons why it is here with this article.

                                                              Download it here.

                                                                32. LogMeIn

                                                                Want to be able to control your Mac from wherever you are? Then get this app.

                                                                Download it here.

                                                                  For Improving Security

                                                                  33. 1Password

                                                                  There is simply no better password manager out there. I’ve even put together a 1Password Emergency Kit worth looking at here.

                                                                  Download it here.

                                                                    34. LastPass Password Manager

                                                                    You can store passwords and logins, create online shopping profiles, generate strong passwords, track personal information in photo and audio notes.

                                                                    All you have to do is remember your LastPass master password, and LastPass auto-fills web browser and app logins for you.

                                                                    Download it here.

                                                                      35. Truecaller

                                                                      Identify and block spammers, search for unknown numbers, and call friends easily with this app. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, you’ll need this app.

                                                                      Download it here.

                                                                        There are plenty of other options out there (and we’ve heard from readers in the past as to what they enjoyed using), but these 40 are among the best.

                                                                        Featured photo credit: William Hook via unsplash.com

                                                                        Reference

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