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

Updated Oct 26, 2022.
Parkinson's law

Do you ever wonder why you spend so much time on a task? Why does your team’s productivity tend to drop? Parkinson’s law explains why your team always stretches the time it takes to complete tasks based on how much time they get.

Working hard and working smart will produce different results. Your hard work doesn’t mean you can complete all your tasks before the deadline. 

But if you decide to work smart, you can stay productive. You can spend less time on tasks and ensure they are completed.

This article will teach Parkinson’s law and how to hack it for maximum productivity.

What is Parkinson’s Law?

Cyril Northcote Parkinson is the author of the humorous essay in The Economist (1955) titled Parkinson's Law. Cyril Northcote Parkinson was a British naval historian and author.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson
Source: National Portrait Gallery

He can access a vast range of useful information as a British historian.

A striking statement in the opening line of his article mirrors how people can spend the entire day working on a task or various tasks that could take less time to complete.

What Parkinson Observed in the British Civil Service

Parkinson could make such a statement because he worked in the British Civil Service and had first-hand experience with the bureaucracy of such an administrative body. 

The bureaucracy itself is a result of our culture, thanks to the limiting belief that working harder is somehow better than working smarter and faster.

Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson's Law - Work expands to fill the period available for its completion

If you give yourself a week to bring an hour task to completion, the task will become more complex to complete, and it will take you a week to complete. But it is possible to complete the task within an hour. 

A simple solution is to allot specific deadlines or a time limit, which may be less than the one the organization originally gave. Doing this helps increase productivity, boost cross-team collaboration, reduce complexity, and progress with other tasks.

You will have more time to improve the quality of your work and reduce the overall effort you would have originally applied.

Parkinson’s Three Laws

Parkinson’s First Law

The first law states that the total work will always increase to fill the allotted time available for its completion. This statement describes how Parkinson's law works. 

For example, it would take a person two hours to complete, but if he gets a two-day deadline, the work may eventually take two days.

Parkinson’s Second Law

The second law states that a person’s spending will increase when his income increases. For example, the individual will spend more on properties and other comfort items. The drawback of this law is the inevitable increase in taxes.

Parkinson’s Third Law

The third law states that development leads to complications and the end of the development process. 

After completing your project or task (reaching perfection), the next step is decline or disappearance. For project managers, the next step is to start thinking of starting another. 

Other Parkinson Laws

  • The Law of Delay: This law states that procrastination and delays at the beginning of tasks are the main reason people fail.
  • Law of A Thousand: An organization will attain self-sufficiency when it has about a thousand staff or more without needing external aid or support.
  • The Law Of Telephone: This law states that a telephone's effectiveness largely depends on how much time you spend on the call.
  • The Law Of Scientific Research: It is normal for successful research to require more funding, but most times, the funds may not be available, resulting in the research being stopped.

Why Work Expands to Fill the Time Available

Is it possible to complete a project in half the time allotted? How much time do you use to accomplish a given task? 

These questions are vital; the answers can explain why work increases to cover the time available.

Procrastination is the thief of time. By procrastinating tasks because of the given deadline, you will spend more time than you would to accomplish them. 

People’s tendency to delay tasks from being completed on time because they believe they still have time to do them is one of the reasons why work expands to cover the time available.

The consciousness that there is no pressure and they can spread out the time required to complete this task results in anxiety, tension, and complications. You may be required to do more work as a result.

For example, in business, you must follow up on your clients to ensure they keep patronizing you so that you can make more money. 

If you have a task to call fifty clients, this task should take about thirty minutes, but the deadline given to you was one week. You tend to assume that you will have enough time to accomplish the task and may wait till the last minute to take action.

How Can I Overcome Parkinson’s Law and Increase Personal Productivity?

A commonplace observation around work and personal productivity is that completing tasks requires discipline and time management.

To remain productive and successfully overcome the Parkinson’s Law, you must consider certain important steps.

1. Make Your Vision Statement as Clear as Possible 

Create a realistic and achievable vision statement that describes the big picture of what you want to achieve in the long run. Your vision statement will influence the tasks you want to achieve. 

Create a to-do list, apportion deadlines for each task, slash the time in half, and treat the deadline as though the client or your boss gave them to you.

By taking these steps, your perception of the time required to complete these tasks will change, which means you will finish it before the original given time.

2. Recognize Time Wasters and Minimize the Time Spent Working on Them

Not every email, social media post, and news should have your attention. 

You may spend thirty minutes checking your emails or viewing and commenting on posts online, which will consume a reasonable amount of your productive time.

Improve your productivity by setting a time frame for these secondary activities to avoid spending all day on them and very little on your core activities. 

For example, instead of using an hour to check your emails and engaging in other activities online that may be time-consuming, you can decide to do this within five minutes or even one minute.

3. Prioritizing Is Key In Increasing Productivity 

Focus on the most important and productive task. For some specific tasks, 20% of what you do are relevant, and the remaining 80% is not (Pareto’s Principle).

Examples of the Pareto Principle at work
Source: Mint

The knowledge of Parkinson’s Law applied here will force you to give more attention to the most relevant and important task.

Spending so much time trying to achieve tasks that most of the component is not so important and leaving the important part out is useless. 

Since you will have to complete everything eventually, you may have less time to complete the most important part of the task.

Prioritizing the most important task will be the wise decision in this case. Do not allow the less important tasks to consume most of the time.

4. Explain Everyone’s Role in Your Team

If you are working on a project requiring teams and various players, it is vital for every team member to know and fully understand their role and the task given to them. Create a project timeline to help every project team member stay on track. 

One of the reasons it takes time for people working together as a team to accomplish tasks within the given time is a lack of understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

By helping everyone have a clear picture of what they require to complete a task and their contribution to the project, it will be less likely that the Parkinson’s Law will affect them negatively. 

Instead, they will complete their task appropriately and focus on their work.  

5. Bring the Pressure Forward 

The more time you have, the more the work will likely expand. You can decide to bring the pressure forward by reducing the time a task takes to reach completion. 

For example, you have an order to bake a birthday cake for an old lady for delivery on Thursday. You must make all the preparations two days before the event to reduce tension and anxiety while completing the task before the deadline.

6. Use the Promodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique involves breaking down your work schedule into smaller bits (25-minute work time with five-minute break intervals). 

By using focused work sessions and taking short breaks, you prevent burnout and increase productivity. 

The Pomodoro Technique
Source: LinkedIn

How to Use Parkinson’s Law in Project Management

As a project manager, your greatest desire is to see every project you embark on accomplished.

Applying the Parkinson’s Law can effectively boost productivity and ensure that your team members are utilizing the time allotted to each task as they ought to.

Here are some practical ways to apply Parkinson’s Law as a project manager:

1. Minimize Every Task and Project Deadline to 50% of the Allotted Time (Half An Hour for An Hour Task)

Research the project you are embarking on and find out how long it will take to complete that kind of task. 

Apply this knowledge to the task at hand and cut the time required to conclude the project by 50%.

2. Work Smart, Not Hard

If the most important thing is for the employees to complete the task, clarify this to them. If the task requires a certain detail, make it clear to them.

Your employees working hard may not be the answer to getting tasks done. There may be an easier way to get the job done without putting a certain amount of effort. 

Your job is to help them understand this and also help them discover the smartest way to get a job done. Adopt the SMART goals framework to help your organization accomplish tasks quicker and easier.

The S.M.A.R.T. Goal Formula

3. Read the Room

Imposing tight deadlines on your employees who are already stressed and overwhelmed by the present workload is not wise. 

Adding to their workload may lead to them procrastinating and create anxiety and tension among your employees.

Once you discover that they have a lot to do with little time, you can rearrange the schedule of the tasks to something more suitable for the timeframe. Another option is to give them extra time to finish their task.

4. Always Encourage Employees to Keep a Productivity Journal

Encouraging employees to keep a productivity journal has several benefits for their life and helps them remain in the right frame of mind. 

Keeping a productivity journal is a principle that can help employees perform better at work, encourage them to do the work required, and meet deadlines.

Parkinson’s Law FAQ

How Can I Use Parkinson's Law in My Daily Life?

Time management is one of the most effective ways to implement Parkinson's Law. You can effectively manage your time and allot quality time to relevant tasks.

Achieve every desired goal and target by managing your time better. Ensure you create room for extra time for tasks you underestimated the duration.

Is Parkinson's Law True?

Parkinson's Law is not business law but applies to real-life situations.

As a result of procrastination, people take more time to do what they are supposed to in less than the given time. This point makes Parkinson's Law true in most situations.

What is an example of Parkinson’s Law?

You can find a perfect example of Parkinson’s law in the following article (The Economist) where this concept was first proposed:

“IT is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.”
— From “Parkinson’s Law,” by C. Northcote Parkinson, in The Economist (1955)

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Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.