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Last Updated on February 17, 2021

How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Get More Done in Less Time

How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Get More Done in Less Time

Work expands to fill the period of 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[1], 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 and 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—the amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completionmeans 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[2]. It may not even fill the extra time with more work, but just stress and tension about having to get it done.

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Parkinson's Law

    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[3].

    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.

    However, Parkinson’s Law is simply 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!

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    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.

    Running Against the Clock

    As you get started with Parkinson’s Law, 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.

    Get Better at Judging Time

    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 if you’re not used to using Parkinson’s Law.

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    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.

    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!

    Crush the Cockroaches of the Productivity World

    When implementing Parkinson’s Law, 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 of 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.

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    Learn to Prioritize

    These are tasks where 10% of what you do is important and 90% is absolutely useless when it comes to Parkinson’s Law. 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 read up on new practices), and emails that are actually high-priority. To help you with this, Lifehack’s got this free guide on How To Create More Time Out Of A Busy Schedule to help you prioritize your everyday tasks. Grab your free guide here.

    Experiment with how far you can take this. Make your criteria for what makes an email important very strict and the penalties harsh! That means using the Delete button, by the way—I’m not advocating violence against your colleagues.

    The Bottom Line

    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.

    By using Parkinson’s Law correctly, you can get more done in less time and learn how much time each of your tasks really requires.

    More Tips on Being Productive

    Featured photo credit: Alejandro Escamilla via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    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.

    3 Simple Strategies for Dealing With External Distractions How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Get More Done in Less Time How to Master the Art of Prioritization the Right Way The Importance of Scheduling Downtime How to Make Decisions Under Pressure

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    Published on July 12, 2021

    Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

    Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

    Conventional wisdom centers around giving more of yourself to others in your life than you would to what you want to accomplish. You’re taught to make sacrifices and put your needs secondary because that’s how you’ll become a better person. However, not making yourself a priority is keeping you from accomplishing your goals and getting more done.

    Let me know if this sounds familiar. You work hard all day to accomplish your goals. During your moments of focus, there are requests from others and demands from outside distractions on your time. You start each day with a to-do list of items that you want to accomplish. By the time you come to the end of your day, you haven’t completed what you wanted. If you were to analyze your time, you would see that the reason is you’re constantly being distracted.

    There’s a significant difference between being selfish and being self-centered. I won’t give you the analogy that you hear every time you get on an airplane, but if you’re going to accomplish your goals, you have to stop drowning—in a figurative sense.

    The reality is that you’re giving more of yourself to others than you are giving to your goals and vision of the future. By not making yourself a priority, your goals have become secondary.

    Here are six important reasons why everyone should understand the importance of self-prioritization. The key to getting more done starts with taking care of yourself first and foremost.

    1. You Create the Bandwidth You’ll Need to Focus on Your Goals When You Make Yourself a Priority

    It takes a lot of yourself to consistently put in the work that helps you get more done and accomplish your goals. You need energy, bandwidth, and mental clarity to wake up every day and work hard.

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    By making yourself a priority, it allows you to see the path to accomplishment. Too many people aren’t accomplishing their goals because their goals get lost in the busyness of taking care of others. It becomes a negative habit and a complacent way to live life.

    Life rarely works out as expected, and as you’re working on your goals, you’re going to experience unexpected setbacks. You need bandwidth and mental strength to withstand those frustrating moments and still maintain the motivation to accomplish your goals.

    The vital part of accomplishment is that you are working on your goals.

    When you are working on what you want to accomplish to make yourself better, you can stay focused on what it will take to get there. You learn to say no to anything that will derail your path, and this creates more space and time to work on what you need to. Create the proper bandwidth through self-prioritizing.

    2. Focused Energy Leads to More Production

    Disorganization affects productivity. When it feels like you’re being pulled in many different directions, you can’t focus and create the energy needed for consistent production. A scattered mind leads to half-accomplished goals.

    We know that in goal-setting, we need a plan. This plan has to be centered around what you want to accomplish. Self-prioritization allows you to create a plan that’s focused on the specific actions and steps it will take to achieve your goals.

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    As you take action in an organized way, this leads to more production because your focus and energy are around the goals you know will help you be better and accomplish more. You simply get more done when you have the energy to do so.

    3. Prioritizing Yourself Builds Clarity on What Boundaries You Should Set and Keep

    Deep inside, you know when you should be saying no instead of saying yes. When you agree to anything that could derail your focus, it eats away at you inside. Prioritizing yourself and your goals helps you set boundaries and keep them because of the intense focus.

    There will always be attempts and requests for your time and attention. As you start to build up yourself and accomplish more, others will notice. This will bring demand for your energy and your focus. If you give in to these requests, you won’t have the necessary bandwidth needed to work on your goals consistently.

    Setting boundaries is an integral part of goal setting and living a healthy life. You have to be firm about what you allow and what you will not tolerate in your life. Human nature tends to lean towards people-pleasing—when you focus on pleasing others, you don’t please yourself.

    Prioritize your goals and the things that you want to accomplish in your life. That’s the operative thing to understand—this is your life, and the focus has to be on what you want to achieve in that life. Use self-prioritization to clarify what boundaries need to be set and make sure you hold these boundaries firmly.

    4. Sustainable Productivity happens With excitement for What You’re Working On

    There are many reasons why people don’t accomplish their goals, but one that is not often thought about is a lack of excitement. When you spend the whole time working on things that drain you, your productivity diminishes with every second.

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    Letting outside circumstances dictate your goals leads to a lack of excitement. By not focusing on making yourself a priority, you’re not creating an environment in which you are thrilled to be working on your goals. It will take a lot of hard work over a sustained period of time to accomplish your significant goals and be productive. It’s going to require energy and bandwidth to overcome the setbacks and stay focused.

    Prioritizing yourself allows you to set challenging goals, but the outcome is exciting. If you look at what you’re working on and it’s not exciting, you won’t have sustainability. A lack of motivation will drain your productivity.

    You’re a human being, not a machine. There will be things in your life that are not an exciting part of this process, but there has to be a balance between work and play. Work-life balance happens when the life part has an equal priority. Prioritizing what you want creates that balance and amplifies productivity.

    5. It’s Mentally and Emotionally Freeing to Let Go of Outside Expectations

    We are programmed to take on the baggage of outside circumstances. We’re taught that to be a good human being, we should take on what others are going through. By prioritizing yourself, you’ll come to understand that you are responsible for your life, and that involves your mental well-being.

    Prioritizing yourself helps you see that you have to let go of the expectations of others. This is your life, and you have to live in the best way that you see fit. It’s important for you to spend the precious moments you have on this earth working on your goals and the things that help you live a better life.

    When you let go of outside expectations of what you should be doing and how you should be doing it, it frees up bandwidth and creates mental clarity to be productive. No longer are you walking around with the burden of what others expect from you, it’s time to spend your time the way you’d like to.

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    Other people’s expectations of your life don’t have to be part of your plan. It’s your responsibility to set the goals that help you live a free life and spend your time exactly how you’d like to spend it. Make yourself a priority by letting go and focusing on yourself first and foremost.

    6. Optimizing Yourself Builds Every Area of Your Life

    You’re probably working on your goals because you want to become the best version of yourself and create a life that brings more time freedom. The path to higher income, better relationships, more travel, and all the other things you want to accomplish happen through self-optimization and productive life.

    When you can optimize yourself, it helps you be better in every other area of your life. The key to optimizing yourself starts by prioritizing yourself in more than just words. When you take action from a place of “you-first,” you’ll have the energy and capacity needed to push harder for longer.

    Make yourself a priority by focusing on optimizing yourself and all the things you want to accomplish. Everything inside you might be screaming to help others first, but you can’t give what you don’t have. The best place to share is from a place of abundance, and that comes from optimizing yourself.

    Final Thoughts

    It’s time to take better care of yourself. It’s time to treat yourself as the most significant goal because that should always be the case. What you’d like to accomplish and your path to get there have to be a priority before you think about others.

    The demands and energy of others can derail you if you let it. Self-prioritization means that you decide where your boundaries will be set and not allow others to violate them. You’ve probably spent a lot of your time up to this point focused on other people and outside circumstances. It’s time to take a dedicated period of time to put yourself first. You deserve a productive life.

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    Debunk the programming that there’s something wrong with putting yourself first and making your goals the primary priority. You can always help others and be there for those who need you while making yourself a priority. It’s not an either-or situation—it’s a situation in which you can help strategically.

    More Tips on How to Make Yourself a Priority

    Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

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