Reality Blog: 5 Tips to Beat Parkinson’s Law and Get More Done

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I once had a car with a broken speedometer, odometer, and fuel gauge. It also had a small hole somewhere near the top of the gas tank. It wasn’t so bad that it leaked gas onto the road, but you could smell the fumes. So, I didn’t dare fill it to the top.

I drove that beloved car of mine for years, never topping off the tank because of the leak, having no clue as to how many miles I’d driven or how much gas I’d used. And incredibly, never once running out of gas.

Call it luck, intuition, or divine intervention, but I prefer to say I’m a good guesstimator… and I’m quite proud of it.

Until it comes to approximating time. That’s where my “gift” ends.

Now that I’m a full-time freelance writer, my ineptness at estimating time is becoming even more apparent… or possibly getting worse. Things that I think will take 30 minutes end up taking all day.

Don’t tell anyone, but a couple of times since I left my job to dedicate my time to my own freelance writing business, I’ve wondered to myself if I’m getting any more work done now than I did when I had only three hours a day to focus on it.

Sometimes it seems as if my work has expanded to fill in my days with no more being accomplished.

I feel a little better since I’ve discovered that there’s a name for this problem. (Having a name for it tells me I’m not alone!)

Parkinson’s Law

The idea that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion” is known as Parkinson’s Law.

According to Business Dictionary, the observation in 1955 by UK Political analyst Cyril Northcote Parkinson was a jab at the British military. Parkinson commented that the department grew while the number of ships and sailors under its care declined.

In other words, it was taking more personnel to accomplish the same amount of — or less —  finished work.

In its original context, Parkinson’s Law refers to large corporations or governments. It goes on further to essentially explain that the amount of work to be done will expand to fill in the time allowed for that work.

Its meaning has metamorphosed over the years. Parkinson’s Law is now interpreted and used in reference to things such as:

  • Physical belongings like stuff in a drawer, closet, or garage — when you have more space, you’ll fill it with more stuff.

  • Personal finances or money management — the more money you make, the more you’ll spend or need to make.

  • Time management or productivity — the more time you have to complete something, the longer it’ll take to get it done.

I won’t comment on the first two, but the time management reference describes my situation perfectly.

Now that I have a name for it, it’s time to figure out what to do about it.

Overturn the Law

So, can we reverse Parkinson’s Law… and use it to our advantage?

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Tracy Clement Wilson

Tracy's a freelance B2B copywriter, web writer, blogger, science geek, tree hugger, and health food fanatic. When she's not busy with her family, she attempts organic gardening and hangs out with her chickens (the ladies who give her eggs), bearded dragon (her favorite...read "only"...lizard), and dogs (her office mates).

4 Comments

  • Thank you for this encouraging message! I am starting out as a new Copywriter, and I can’t seem to get enough accomplished in my day. Along with feeling overwhelmed, and a bit… overstretched, organization has never been a strong suit of mine. This list that you had here will be a great starting point to help in organizing not only my time, but also helping me to better organize my priorities.
    I look forward to all of the information that I still have to read in this group! I am looking forward more to establishing myself as an experienced, well paid writer!!

    Sincerely,

    Marcus

  • Great article and tips. I use the one about breaking projects into smaller pieces all the time, but hadn’t thought about actually scheduling to meet with a friend or someone for lunch to give me extra incentive to stick to the deadline – brilliant!

    I also struggle with attempting to figure out how much time each task is going to take. I think it’ll take 30 minutes, so I’ll schedule 60 and, all too often, it takes 120. Lately, I’ve gone ahead and scheduled 120 minutes when I think it’ll take 30 and that is working without all the extra frustration of random tech issues, unanticipated additional steps to be taken, and other things that go bump in a project throwing me off my schedule. If nothing adverse happens and I can actually finish in 30 minutes, I have time to give myself a reward and maybe even get something else done as well.

    • Hi Wendy,

      With lots of practice, we’ll figure it out. One day soon we’ll get that timing right on the nose… and then follow it up with a reward that’s built into our schedule (wouldn’t that be nice?).

      Best of luck to you!
      Tracy

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