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

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 the task will increase in complexity, so as to fill that entire week. If you assign the right amount of time to a task, you gain more time and the task will reduce in complexity to its natural state.

This approach works because most people, consultants included, attribute to tasks more time than actually required. This is partly psychological because they want some wriggle room or buffer. So, the estimates are usually inflated, especially among junior consultants, who are taught to under promise and over deliver. As a recent research finding [1] shows, customers and clients are not particularly impressed or appreciate the extra effort you put into going above and beyond your promise. They do not appear to be uniquely ungrateful, just human.

Likewise, most employees consistently defy the unwritten rule – work smarter, not any harder. Despite the greater returns for the company, taking the smarter approach is not always appreciated or rewarded [2]. Many managers fall prey to the fallacy that something takes longer to complete should inherently be of better quality.

To overcome such biases and fallacies, 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 and set deadlines for each task. This will make you see time as a precious resource. Treat your self-imposed deadlines just as you would any client deadline. Use your instinct for competition to make this work for you.

Also, look for any time fillers that lurk as trivial tasks, such as emails, social media and news feeds. These distractions usually keep you from delivering real, good quality work. The addiction [3] to emails and social media updates is because of the release of Endorphins when we receive a text message or notification. To be productive, limit your time checking emails, social media, and news feeds. Instead of a leisurely 20-30 minute morning email check, give yourself five minutes. If you’re honest, your emails follow the Pareto Principle i.e. about 20% of the emails you receive are important; the remaining 80% are absolutely useless and add no value, either to you or your clients.

Establish the criteria to vet really important tasks from distracters. Keep revising your deadlines down to the absolute minimum; be conscious of the difference between absolute minimum and not enough time. You should be aiming for a job well done in less time; not a disaster that’s going to cost you your clients. Working with task lists and deadlines will make you more productive by forcing you to prioritize your time! Set yourself tight deadlines and force yourself to prioritize your work. Great things can be accomplished when your priorities are in the right order.

Think Insights (January 13, 2021) Parkinsons Law. Retrieved from https://thinkinsights.net/strategy/parkinsons-law/.
"Parkinsons Law." Think Insights - January 13, 2021, https://thinkinsights.net/strategy/parkinsons-law/
Think Insights January 9, 2018 Parkinsons Law., viewed January 13, 2021,<https://thinkinsights.net/strategy/parkinsons-law/>
Think Insights - Parkinsons Law. [Internet]. [Accessed January 13, 2021]. Available from: https://thinkinsights.net/strategy/parkinsons-law/
"Parkinsons Law." Think Insights - Accessed January 13, 2021. https://thinkinsights.net/strategy/parkinsons-law/
"Parkinsons Law." Think Insights [Online]. Available: https://thinkinsights.net/strategy/parkinsons-law/. [Accessed: January 13, 2021]