This article originally appeared at Gen-i’

In the fifties, the historian, C. Northcote Parkinson, published an essay in The Economist that began with the following observation:

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

We all usually over-budget on deadlines. We allow ourselves much more time than we need. And usually go right up to the wire. If you have a week to finish a project, that’s probably how long you’re going to spend on it. Even if it could be completed in two days of focused work.

This is known as Parkinson’s Law. And if you want to be efficient, less stressed, and more productive, it’s something to be aware of and use to your advantage.

In fact, awareness of this fact is a crucial part of the Implementation stage of my HOW Skill Set. Making change happen is hard – yet with the right techniques and an awareness of your own behaviour, it’s far from impossible.

Parkinson’s Law and Time Management.

In terms of time management, the pitfall identified by Parkinson’s law is that you will allow yourself much more time to complete a task than you actually need. By being over-generous with the time allowed, the task then takes that amount of time!

‘Work smarter, not harder’

Be clear on the objective of the task to be completed. Why give an hour to a meeting when you only have two little things to discuss? You’ll be more focused and attentive if you just allow ten minutes for the meeting. The objectiveof the meeting has been emphasised by the time allotted.

Why allow half an hour to check your emails, if you know you can reply to the important ones in five minutes? Focus on what the objective of each task is and figure out how to execute that task as efficiently as possible.

Allowing a task more time will inevitably lead to the task taking that long.

Reasonable yet Strict Deadlines

Be aware of how much time you are wasting. I outline an interesting exercise to do to help you find out where your time is going, check out ‘Effective Time Management‘.  Estimate how much time you will realistically need to complete a task if you worked at your BEST – and stick to it.

Now, I am not endorsing rushing your work. Remember my point above, the objectiveis important. Rushing your task and producing poorly executed work, is not achieving the objective of the task!

The truth is that, unfortunately, in your estimation, you are probably still wasting time. The task is probably already bloated by your over-generosity. By your fear of not having sufficient time, or even by the fact that you are scared of facing the task immediately.

Let’s be a little strict though. Halve the time you have estimated for the task. For the majority of tasks, my bet is that you’ll manage easily. But be sensible. There is no point doing a task badly, just because it can be done more quickly than you expect.

Thinking Incrementally

In an article on this topic, Josh Kaufman quotes the technique of Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA’s founder. If you split your day into ten-minute increments, and you try to waste as few of those ten-minute increments as possible, you’ll be amazed at what you can get done.

It’s all about efficiency and knowing what you need to achieve and by when. It’s about being aware of the time you waste, and accounting for all the time in the day to avoid this.

An extreme example of this is Elon Musk, who claims to know what he is going to be doing in every five minute slot in his day. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend working seventeen hours a day, as Musk apparentlydoes, it is an interesting technique to consider!

Working Toward Your Intention.

Your intentionis what I call the great goal to which you are always working. It is the driver for the HOW Skill Set I mentioned earlier.

Parkinson’s Law is not just a tool for self-chastisement. Rather, it is a reminder that you can do so much with your life if you set yourself the structure in which to do it.

Imagine that goal that has always been just out of reach. By completing the tasks that you need to do within a reasonable time, you’ll unlock bags more time to crack on with what actually makes you tick.

How to Use Parkinson’s Law. Action Points.

  • For a given task, consider how much time you’d take to complete it. Then halve that time. For a whole host of reasons, we over-estimate every single time. Force yourself not to.
  • Calculate how much time you’d save by getting more efficient.And then work out what you could do with that time.