Leveraging Parkinson’s Law

Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law

It states that “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Simply put, the amount of work required adjusts (usually increasing) to the time available for its completion.

No wonder it feels as though I’m working all the time these days!

If you’re used to going into an office every day and you’ve found yourself working at home for the past several months due to the pandemic, you may have noticed that it feels like that for you too. I’ve been working at home for years and it can still be a struggle some days.

Many people have more time now, without a commute. Others have less time as they balance work and home life while pinch-hitting as teacher. Time seems to lose clear definition when our professional work, household chores, home schooling duties, increased cooking time, and personal life all happen within the same four walls. When the new commute consists of walking from the bedroom to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, then to the dining room table or home office – and we’re able to do all of the above wearing the same pajama bottoms – our approach may be worth revisiting. 

I suspect we’re going to be in this pandemic thing for a while. And if that’s the case, how do we adjust our relationship with time to reinstate boundaries, regain productivity, and pump up the joy?

How do we prevent overwhelm, stop listening to the dishwasher calling us to come empty it, resist watering the plants, taking out the trash or running that quick errand to the post office and grocery store?  Before you know it, it’s 3pm and very little work has been accomplished.

Sure, those are important things to do, but are we being most efficient if we’re bouncing back and forth, transferring the laundry while preparing for that presentation? It might feel like it, but I have news… multitasking is not an actual thing. Granted, that’s a whole other conversation backed by science.

Instead, I say we appropriate this law of Parkinson’s and wrangle those schedules with Time Boxing.

The concept of Time Boxing is simple, really.

  • Chunk out your tasks; especially those you procrastinate on or can’t find focused time for
  • Estimate and assign a block of time to complete each task (you’ll get better at estimating with practice)
  • Break large tasks into smaller ones; nothing should take a whole day or more by itself
  • Prioritize work by deadline, not by preference; you’ll feel more accomplished getting things done on time, or even early
  • Schedule the blocks on your calendar, preventing others from grabbing your time
  • Commit to keeping that appointment with yourself, like you would with someone else
  • Work on that task, and that task only; turn off all distractions (email, calendar notifications, social media, phone, TV, radio)
  • Challenge yourself to complete the task in that designated block of time; focus on how good it will feel to check it off as complete
  • When the time block ends, assess your progress, and schedule another block of time, if needed
  • Track your estimates vs. your actuals to get better at estimating
  • At the end of the week, celebrate all you’ve been able to accomplish!

And don’t forget the law… Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.  Set a finite time for completing each task. On Monday, simply saying “I’ve got to get this done by Friday” is not going to cut it.

This concept can be applied to your personal life too. Consider using it with that home project you’re procrastinating on, or that event you’re planning for the holidays (virtual, of course).

I’m not always perfect with this, but when I put it into practice, that To-Do list doesn’t stand a chance!