Parkinson’s Law and How To Avoid This Productivity Killer For Projects, Meetings, Papers and Everyday Life

Have you ever given you or your team 3 hours to do something only to find it takes all three hours. Yet, a few months later you and or your team have an hour to do the same exact thing and it takes that hour.

Welcome to the productivity killer called Parkinson’s Law!

It states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. In layman’s terms, the more time you give yourself, the less motivated you become, and the task seems to magically inflate.

The law was coined by British historian and author Cyril Northcote Parkinson in his 1955 book “Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.”

Parkinson observed this principle of work expanding to fill the time available in his experience with the British Navy bureaucracy. He saw tasks and projects dragging on longer than necessary, regardless of their actual complexity, and coined the catchy term “Parkinson’s Law” to describe this phenomenon.

I’m sure you can think right now of times when this has happened to you or your team, maybe even recently. But…

Fear not we’ve got the antidote for you. Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology titled “A field experiment on Parkinson’s Law: The effects of imposed deadlines on procrastination and performance” offers a delightful escape route. 

This study pitted two groups against each other: one with fixed deadlines, the other with flexible ones. Guess what? The fixed-deadline group procrastinated less and finished their tasks faster, proving that structure trumps the seductive sands of procrastination.

Parkinson’s Law also regularly infects meetings. Give a meeting and hour and rest assured you’ll take that hour even if the task at hand was solved twenty minutes into it.

It’s a human nature phenomenon that just happens. BUT  You can conquer the Parkinsonian monster.

Here are 3  battle-tested tactics:

  1. The most impactful tactic, don’t make the time limit or the deadline the goal. Make the goal completing the task, paper, meeting or whatever your goal is.

    For example, say your team has a project and the deadline is in two months. Make the goal simply to finish and the time constraint a guideline.

    If you’re running a meeting that is set for an hour. In the first minutes of the meeting set the goal of the meeting. Is it a decision, a recommendation, to inform. Agree that once you’ve accomplished that goal, the meeting is over regardless of the time. If it take 15 minutes then the meeting is over.

  2. Divide large projects into smaller, manageable tasks and embrace micro-deadlines based on these tasks: Instead of a vague “finish report by next month,” break it down into weekly or daily mini-goals. If you want to learn how to break up projects or tasks listen to episode 14 titled Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Homework Assignment Lesson That Will Boost Your Productivity

    It’s one of the most impactful homework assignments I ever got and if you can believe it, it was in 4th grade.

  3. Incentivize results over time. If a team finishes a project, give them a reward. You’ll be surprised how people don’t fill the time anymore,
    Always incentivize completion ahead of the time schedule in some way to put the spotlight on the task.

Remember, Parkinson’s Law is just a force of nature, not a life sentence. By implementing the power of deadlines, mini tasks, and rewards, you can turn that time-sucking monster into productivity fuel for you and or your team.

Your move.

If you liked this post you’ll ❤️ the…PRODUCTIVITY Podcast I host where you get a daily dose of productivity in LESS than 4 minutes a day.