Allow me to tell you a quick story. When I was in University, I was asked to write an essay. However, because it was supposed to be a long paper, the lecturer gave us two months to finish it. I was a massive procrastinator back then, and since the deadline was so far away, I didn’t even think about starting writing yet. Instead, I decided my time was better spent playing computer and console games.
Anyway, days and weeks passed, and the deadline got closer and closer, however, I still hadn’t written a single paragraph. Then, with only two days left, I started writing with speed and haste, and laser focus.
Finishing my work became the number one priority, and took all of my focus. I was studying IT, and this paper was all about options for businesses with Australian cloud backup solutions. Thankfully by the end, I was full bottle on all of the options, and I managed to finish and turn in my paper, with only hours to spare. And to top it off, I also got a great score!
This brings me to Parkinson’s Law. The law was created by Cyril Parkinson as part of an essay that he published in The Economist in 1955. The law states “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This might sound a bit confusing at first, however, let me explain what it means.
If someone gives you one week to mow their lawn, the law states that it will take you a whole week to do it. If you have one month to do something, it will take you that whole one month to do it. If you were given one year to do it, then equally it will take you one whole year.
Parkinson’s Law basically says that the more time you have to do it, the longer you will take to finish that assigned task. In the same way, the less time you have for the task, the more likely it is that you can complete it in that lesser time. Similarly, if a job or given task does not have a specific deadline set it will most likely never get done.
Whenever we have something we want to complete whether it’s an essay on cloud hosting or mowing your next-door neighbor’s lawn for someone we make the mistake of thinking that the more time we give ourselves to complete it the better the end result will be.
However, more often than not most of that time is spent procrastinating and only a small portion of it is spent on the thing we want to achieve. If someone gave you one month to mow their lawn it would probably take you 29 days before you even began simply because you know it could be completed in one day. So that’s 29 days of procrastinating because you know you have more than enough time before you get started.
The same thing happened with that essay that I mentioned at the very start. Because most of the month was spent doing other things and only a small portion of the time was spent on writing. If I was given a week instead of one month to write that same paper I would have finished it in one week.
You don’t spend hours of your day surfing and mindlessly reading Facebook. You don’t spend time on TikTok or Instagram. Nor do you waste time on video games. No, in an instant, those things that usually make up a huge part of your day suddenly become unimportant.
In other words, because your deadline is so close, suddenly you prioritize your tasks much better. You can’t afford to procrastinate or mess about like many of us tend to do. Instead, you’re fully focused on getting stuff done.
Parkinson’s Law is important to be conscious about from any time management training or examples for perspective. The end result of this is a shorter deadline is actually better for you, because then you aren’t distracted and you will have laser focus.
This may sound obvious however it is something people do when they first hear about Parkinson’s Law. However, you can still try to push the limits of what is possible and maybe you’ll find some shortcuts along the way.
The worst-case scenario is you get some work done, however, you then need to go back and give it a little polish. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your deadline seems like it is forever away, months or weeks or even days, that is a better scenario than no deadline at all. Remember, if you have absolutely no deadline for that task or paper, then it is likely that your goal will never be achieved.