Do you ever feel like if you had a little bit more time, you would be able to get that one thing you always wanted to do done? Maybe it is more than one thing, but if you just had more time you would get those nagging things done. Lets say you do get that time. Do you always accomplish what you set out to do? For a lot of people the answer is no. Why is this? You thought you needed more time, you got more time, yet you still did not accomplish what you wanted. There is a name for this and it is called Parkinson’s Law.
The basic concept of Parkinson’s Law is that your work expands to the time it takes to complete. For example if you are busy and you have a task with a deadline of a week, you will get that task done, but maybe you can not put extra time on it, but it will be done and you can say you did a good job. What if you had the same task, but now with a two week deadline. Would you complete it in a week like you did before or in two weeks? How much more effort or time would you put in to it with that extra time? What if you put in five more hours of work, but it was only marginally better? What if you put it in no extra time? That is the basic idea behind Parkinson’s Law and you can look at it many different ways. We want to look at what we think are the two best defenses against Parkinson’s Law, brain dumps and next actions.
Brain Dumps- We all have been through this when something is due the next day, somehow you magically can focus, yet when you had all week to do it, there was always something else that had your attention. You need to ask yourself if you are letting your time slip away. Maybe you don’t have a clear idea of what needs to be done to finish a project/task or maybe you have other things pulling at your attention and focus. An easy way to help combat this is to write down everything that is on your mind and what you would like to get done. In productivity circles we call this a brain dump. This helps stops those reoccurring thoughts and lets you instantly see what has your attention and what you should be focusing on.
Next Actions- Once you have your list, the next thing to do is find next actions. A lot of times we get stuck with a task because it really is not a task, but a project. A project has multiple next actions to actually complete it. If you have to organize your phone, making the task “Organize my phone”, does not give you any idea of what you actually need to do. You may have a general idea, but if you turned this into a project a few next actions could be, back up photos, re-organize home screen apps, go through downloaded apps and delete any that are not used. This may sound tedious and like extra work (spoiler, it is), but it is extra work that will help you get moving forward again. It will give you the steps needed to actually complete what you are trying to accomplish. Using the above example again, that organize my phone task might linger on your to do list for months because you don’t know what it really means. Where if you did your brain dump and knew what the next actions where, you might find the time to just do one of things which then gets you excited and motivated to make progress and finish sooner.
So how do brain dumps and next actions relate with Parkinson’s Law? If you are clear on all the the things you need to focus on and you have thought out the next actions to complete those things, the chances of you taking more time to do a task/project that could have been done quicker becomes much easier. Just because you work more at your job or on something, does not necessarily mean that extra time is helping move the task/project forward. We let perfectionism creep in and then we spend more time perfecting things that in the big picture do not make a significant difference. Or we just don’t take any action at all. It is why one of Seth Godin’s most famous quotes is to “Just ship.” For productivity we would translate this to ‘Just make next actions.” Brain dumps and next actions are your defense against Parkinson’s law. If you know where you are going, you wont get lost in the sea of distractions and you will complete more!