Why Already Busy People Get More Done

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Have you ever thought: “If I only had more time I would be able to accomplish so much more?” I have. I thought it would be great to have one day all to myself, without any work or family responsibilities to tie me up. I thought I’d spend this perfect day doing all of the things which I never seem to have enough time for. And the best part of this day I imagined would be getting everything done at my own pace, without feeling the usual rush of my busy lifestyle.

In fact I went ahead and carved out this dream day to be spent doing everything I had been wanting to do. This day had everything I wanted from it, except for the right mindset. Turned out, with the pressure off, productivity was not there either. Interestingly enough, I ended up with a similar experience when I allocated a full week for “getting things done.” Don’t get me wrong, I was able to cross off my list a good number of items, but not nearly as many as I expected, given the amount of work I get done during the normal busy week.

So why do we get more work done when we are already busy?   

From now on, you can blame your lack of productivity on the Parkinson’s Law as the main obstacle on your way to the efficient use of time. According to Wikipedia, this law states that work expands to fill all of the time available for its completion. This concept was named after C. Northcote Parkinson, a British historian and scholar who pointed out in the 1950’s that people usually take all of the allocated time, if not longer, to complete any task. As the Parkinson’s law suggests, with the project scope growing, the level of its efficiency inevitably goes down.

Without even knowing the name of this concept I have experienced it firsthand on numerous occasions. The more time you have at your hand, the more complex your tasks tend to grow and thus they take longer to complete. The opposite is true as well – the less time we have available to us the simpler the task at hand becomes and the quicker we get it done. When we are booked with back to back projects, we have a limited amount of time to dedicate to each of them. This leaves no room for expanding scopes or unnecessary embellishments. We stay focused on the gist of the task at hand and get it done to meet its originally set parameters

Also, when working with restrictions we are more successful at fighting the temptations of getting distracted by every shiny object that passes by, including constantly checking our newsfeed on the social media. We tend to be more disciplined and that explains why so many of us are able to miraculously pull off in the last couple of hours the project that we had been procrastinating on for weeks.

What we learn from the Parkinson’s Law.

The wide open due dates only create an illusion of time abundance and thus do not work. Hard deadlines, on the other hand, do. So we need to set deadlines for every project we are working on even if at times it means artificially imposing them on ourselves. Having an accountability partner to check on your progress  works too.

The story behind this very blog was exactly that. I had been intending to create it for months when a good friend came along and asked me a simple question: “When is the start date?” It made me acknowledge that I didn’t have one. Not a date, not even a month. With this friend as my self-proclaimed accountability partner I committed to a date right before last Christmas and that changed everything.

So, one thing you can do to accomplish your goals is to realize that you don’t need that much time to begin with. Go ahead and break the Parkinson’s Law by setting your own time limits. Share below if you have any projects that you need to set deadlines for or if you have any tips of your own that may help others.

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  1. Thank you for sharing. I always felt this way, but never knew the theory behind it. This will certainly change the way I do things!

    1. Neither did I. But will be definitely breaking the Parkinson’s Law by setting up deadlines for my projects.

  2. Spring 2018! Deadline for my university degree! Even Parkinson’s law won’t delay it!

  3. This has been a fun challenge you set out for us Natella! Throughout this week I’ve managed to save time and maintain quality when responding to my daily morning emails, during my weekly sales team meeting, and even during face to face meetings with vendors just by setting a time limit and sticking to it. I’m hoping Parkinson’s Law can work it’s magic while I complete my income tax return this weekend. I’ll need his help to make this process as quick and painless as possible. Maybe I’ll save time and increase my return!… One can only hope.

    1. good for you! staying on time and keeping up the quality of work you do. Hopefully your tax return weekend went well – you did in fact have a return and didn’t end up owing a lot to CRA 🙂

  4. Very true. When you’re busy, the stress of getting everything done on time can compel you to work harder, whereas long weekends with no priorities often succumb to procrastinatrion.