The Best Advice I’ve Heard About Time: Parkinson’s Law

Note: I learned about this time management concept through my writing community, The Young Writer’s Workshop.

You have to write a 500-page essay for homework, wash the dishes, and go to a 2-hour soccer practice tonight. How long does it take you to do those things?

It’s easy to figure out how long the soccer practice will take: two hours, right after school. You’ll get home around 5:30 if school ends at 3:00. 

But what about the other tasks? And, by the way, you remember you have a test tomorrow you have to study for. 

The truth is, the amount of time it takes you to write that essay, do the dishes, and study depends on how long you think those activities will take. This concept is explained by Parkinson’s Law. 

(Looking for more advice about stewarding your time well? Read the post 3 Tips on Time Management!)

What is Parkinson’s Law?

The phrase “Parkinson’s Law” might sound a science-y and boring, but it’s actually a very simple and helpful concept. 

Parkinson’s Law states that a task will expand to fill the time allotted for it. For example, earlier today I tried to find shorts to match with a cute top I bought. It could have taken me 20 minutes to try on every pair of jean shorts my sister and I own and decide which one looked best with the top. 

But I knew I had lots of time this afternoon, so I spent an hour trying on only three pairs of shorts with the top.

The end result was the same—I found the shorts I liked the most—but something that could have taken 20 minutes filled up almost all of the free time I had.

The same can happen with school-related things. Most people could probably type a 500-word essay in 20 minutes if they knew what they were writing about. Then, maybe it would take them 15 more minutes to edit the essay. 

However, if someone gives themself an hour and a half to write the essay, Parkinson’s Law says that writing the essay actually will take an hour and a half instead of the 40 minutes it could have taken. 

With an hour and a half, someone would have the leisure to spend time mulling over how they should start the introduction, stop halfway through writing to do a tad more research, and edit until every last sentence is perfect. 

It’s ideal to write a good essay. However, someone may be able write a good essay that would earn an A in 40 minutes, but write a great essay that would earn a 100 in 90 minutes. Both options have a good outcome. 

Sometimes, writing a good essay is better than writing an outstanding essay and losing time (and sometimes sleep, too) because of it. 

Ideas to Apply Parkinson’s Law

  • Give yourself an accurate amount of time to complete tasks. 

If you have to do a homework packet and you think it’s going to take 30 minutes, but you want to give yourself an hour just in case, don’t move slower on the packet because you have a full hour. If you can finish it in 30 minutes, wouldn’t it be better to do so and have extra time afterward? 

Most of the time, we procrastinate when we are given too much time to do something. For example, if we are given a full week to define a list of vocab terms, we might not start until the day it is due even if we could have completed it before. 

Just begin—do the school assignment you’ve been dreading. Most of the time, once we start something, we realize it’s not as bad as we thought it would be.

  • Use deadlines (but not ones too far ahead)

Working on a deadline usually motivates us to go faster. If you had an assignment due at 11:59 PM and started on it at 11:50 PM the night it was due, you would be working like crazy to get the assignment done and submitted on time. 

Treating things as if they are time-constrained could help us work faster. An idea is to give yourself 20 minutes to do something, and treat it as if it were a timed assignment in class–you have to complete it in time.

  • Recognize when Parkinson’s Law comes into play. 

Simply recognizing that a task is taking longer than it’s supposed to can help a lot. Maybe you’re okay with spending lots of time and effort on a school assignment because you have time to spare. 

But maybe you have other things you’d rather do and you want to finish the assignment quickly. Realizing when something can be finished in a shorter amount of time can help you save time. 

The Importance of How We Spend Time

We all know someone who is on top of everything. You know who I’m talking about–the person who plays three sports, is taking five AP classes, and has a social life, too. 

Though I’m not sure I’ll ever make it to that point, not wasting my time helps me to serve God the best I can. Ultimately, we spend our time well because of our love for God. 

Our goal isn’t to be perfect with how we spend our time, but to overall spend the most time on beneficial things and not waste excessive time. Above everything else, we should always have a place for God throughout our day. 

How long a task takes depends on how time-consuming we make it. If we remember Parkinson’s Law, tasks can become much simpler.

If you want more on the topic of time management, read my post on The Rebelution, The Importance of How We Spend Our Free Time.

One response to “The Best Advice I’ve Heard About Time: Parkinson’s Law”

  1. This is fascinating. I really struggle with time management because of A.D.D./A.D.H.D.. I’m going to see how this can apply to me. Maybe I need to create 2 columns of time: what I think it will take and extra time allotted to it. Something to think about. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

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