Use Parkinson’s Law to hit your deadlines

“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

That’s the opening line to Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s 1955 essay, “Parkinson’s Law.” But, despite being written nearly 70 years ago, Parkinson’s observations about work, time, and efficiency only grow more relevant as time goes by.

It’s 2023 now, and we live in an age of remote work. For many of us, that means no more managers standing behind us making sure we’re always working as productively as possible. And, while remote work does have its benefits, it also makes it quite easy to succumb to the natural tendency of expanding work to fill the time you have to get it done.

Think about it—your boss gives you a task that’s due tonight. You stress out and work for 4 hours straight, but you finish it on time. If your boss had said that the assignment was due next week, you would have still spent all the time “working on it,” but maybe you would have done some extra research on the side. And maybe you would have gone through it a few extra times to make sure everything was just right. And, in the end, you would have legitimately worked for a week straight.

The point is, as you have more time to hit a deadline, the scope of your project grows, and the time it takes you to finish the project expands to meet that scope.

The good news is there are a few easy ways to deal with the effects of Parkinson’s Law.

Create Self-Imposed Deadlines

Instead of thinking “how much time do I have to finish this,” think about how much time you actually need to complete a task and set that as your deadline. Challenge yourself to complete things faster than they need to be done.

Eliminate Distractions

Minimize distractions during work periods. Turn off notifications, close unnecessary tabs, and create a focused deep work environment to make the most of your allocated time.

Stay Accountable

Share your self-imposed deadlines with someone else who can hold you accountable. External accountability can help motivate you to stay on track.

Start Tracking Your Time

Consider using an app like Toggl to track how much time it takes you to do each of your tasks while you’re in deep work mode. Then, next time you need to set a deadline, use your estimated deep work time instead of the project’s due date.

When it comes to mastering Parkinson’s Law, it’s all about working smarter and not harder.

Want to read Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s original 1955 essay in The Economist? You can find it here.

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