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How Knowing Parkinson Can Help You Get More Done

Time, it’s the ultimate commodity and I have blogged about it many times before and I’m sure this wont be the last!

We all know you only have 24 hours in a day regardless of how much money you have, how fit and well you are or how much sleep you choose to have however what we can do is use time to our advantage by being more proactive.

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. 

This is proverb was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the famous British historian and author, in 1955 – first appearing as the opening line in an article for The Economist and later becoming the focus of one of Parkinson’s books, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.

Parkinson worked in the British Civil Service, seeing first hand how bureaucracy ticks. Bureaucracy itself is a by-product of our British culture, thanks to the limiting belief that working harder is somehow better than working smarter and faster.

Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time available for its completion – means that if you give yourself a week to complete a two hour task, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting so as to fill that week. It may not even fill the extra time with more work, but just stress and tension about having to get it done. 

Therefore, by assigning the right amount of time to a task, we gain back more time and the task will reduce in complexity to its natural state.

With this being the case then you could argue that if someone was able to assign a time limit of one minute to a task and the task would become simple enough to complete within that minute. 

But Parkinson’s Law is an adage, not some voodoo magic. 

It works because people give tasks longer than they really need, sometimes because they want some ‘leg room’ or buffer, but usually because they have an inflated idea of how long the task takes to complete. People don’t become fully aware of how quickly some tasks can be completed until they test this principle.

Many people have lived the “work harder, not smarter” rule and I’m sure at least once felt overwhelmed.

Lets look at a few ways you can apply Parkinson’s Law to your life.

Create a Must Do List and spend less of the day filling in time just to look busy. The way you do this is by working on the tasks of the highest priority or your Seven Things I Must Do Today (STIMDT).

This is relevant whether you work in an office or at home, since “work harder, not smarter” is a cultural idea that many individuals fall prey to even when nobody’s supervising their work.

For your STIMDT you need to create a time limit for each of the tasks.

You have to see making the time limit as crucial. Treat it like any other deadline. Part of reversing what we’ve been indoctrinated with (work harder, not smarter) is to see the deadlines you set for yourself as unbreakable.

Use that human, instinctual longing for competition that fuels such industries as sports and gaming to make this work for you. You have to win against the clock; strive to beat it as if it were your opponent, without taking shortcuts and producing low-quality output. This is particularly helpful if you’re having trouble taking your own deadlines seriously.

At first, this will be partially an exercise in determining how accurate your time projections for tasks are. Some may be spot on to begin with, and some may be inflated. Those that are spot on may be the ones that you are unable to beat the clock with when you halve the time allotment, so experiment with longer times. Don’t jump straight back to the original time allotment because there may be an optimum period in between.

If you work at a computer, a digital timer is going to be very useful when you start doing this. It’ll also save you a bit of time, because a timer allows you to see at a glance how much longer you have. Using your clock involves some addition and subtraction!

How email and Facebook can be cockroaches

Look for those little time-fillers, like email and Facebook checking, that you might usually think take two, ten or twenty (or even, god forbid, thirty!) minutes. These are the “cockroaches” of the productivity world – little pests that do nothing but make your life a pain in the backside, pains that you can’t seem to get rid no matter how much you run around the house with a shoe or bug spray.

Instead of doing the leisurely 20-30 minute morning Facebook or email check, give yourself five minutes. If you’re up for a challenge, go one better and give yourself two minutes. Don’t give these tasks any more attention until you’ve completed everything on your must-do list that day, at which point you can indulge in some email reading and social networking to your heart’s content. 

Not that I recommend you spend all your spare time that way!

You can experiment with Parkinson’s Law and squashing your deadlines down to the bare minimum in many areas of your life. Just be conscious of the line between ‘bare minimum’ and ‘not enough time’ – what you’re aiming for is a job well done in less time, not a disaster that’s going to lose you employment or clients.

I wanted to give you an example of how I choose to manage my tasks and time below each day.

Create a Daily Must Do list

I choose to have an A4 piece of paper with each of the below written on it.

Weekly Goals

I set weekly goals and I keep them at the top of my daily must do list. This ensures I keep the weeks goals in mind everyday. I remove them as I do them throughout the week. 


Seven Things I Must Do Today – This helps with prioritisation. If you have a list of 30-40 things to do it’s easy to scan the list and keep checking off the easy or quick things to make the list look shorter and feel good but the truth is your are not really achieving what you really want to be when you are doing this.

Today 9-5pm

Today out of hours

I choose to split my STIMDT into tasks that have to be done in ‘normal working hours’  (Today 9-5) and then other things that can be done outside of normal working hours. I find this works really well for me as I will quite often start work at 6am and work up until 10pm so if I identify the things I need to do in working hours (typically where I am reliant on communicating with others) then I can ensure they get done.

Waiting on

If you have actioned a task and are waiting on someone it goes here, this way you stay on the ball with things and this way it doesn’t slip through the net.

Ongoing important tasks

Here is where you keep track of the rest of the important things you Must Do that haven’t made your STIMDT. For me this is mainly IGA’s –  Income Generating Activities. As a business owner this is important for me and I ensure that IGA’s are my priority when creating my daily STIMDT. You may find that IGA’s are not relevant to you so you could replace IGA’s with something that is of a higher importance to you.

Ongoing non-important tasks

These are where I store the tasks that i just ‘need to get done’ that do not of a major importance, like writing a blog for example!


This isn’t a heading I use but it is something I will do every day. I will look at the tasks I have given myself and think who can I outsource them to or who can I pay to do it for me. Recommend resources are and

So if you feel overwhelmed and/or tasks are dragging out a lot longer than they should be give this a try, You can download your FREE Must Do list template with the sub headings included by clicking here.

Until next time… make it happen.


p.s. Have you downloaded my free ebook Staying Positive: 10 Simple Tips to Staying Positive? Click here to download it now!

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