It’s college, your professor has just given you a term paper which you have 1 month to complete.
A month! That’s a world of time. Maybe if you’re particularly diligent you make an outline and plan a little. But if you’re anything like me, and 90% of other college students, you’ll likely put the paper off.
A couple weeks go by, you glance at the calendar and realize your paper is due in a few days. At this point your brain jumps into hyperspeed. Through a mixture of sheer will and copious amounts of caffeine you finish the paper just before the deadline.
Sound familiar? For most of us, this story has played out countless times in our academic and professional career.
Why is this?
A phenomena known as Parkinson’s Law explains the situation.
The Law states that the importance and time it takes to finish a task expands and contracts depending on the amount of time allotted to the task.
Let me put that in plain English for you.
If you have more time to complete a task; you will use more of that time to complete the task. If you have a shorter deadline, then you will complete the same task in less time.
Usually the quality remains constant. So, the end result for both a long and shorter deadline are about the same.
What does this mean?
It’s comforting to give yourself as much time as possible to complete a project. We justify this by thinking the added time will improve the end product. Giving yourself more time, gives you precious hours to plan and think about the project.
But as Parkinson’s Law shows us, this is not the case. That added time will likely be used inefficiently. You will either spend an unnecessary amount of time on unimportant tasks. Or simply procrastinate by enjoying your favorite digital vice.
Worse yet, you are probably still thinking about your assignment when you’re not doing the work. The uncompleted task takes up some space in your brain, even when you’re not working on it. This is a double whammy! You’re not making progress on your project, and you get less enjoyment out of your free time.
3 Ways To Use Parkinson’s Law To Your Advantage
1: Give Yourself Deadlines.
I like deadlines about as much as I like bee stings and tetanus shots, but they are necessary to get anything done. Without a deadline, a task won’t be completed. It is as simple as that.
This is especially important when you’re working on a personal project. School and work naturally impose deadlines, but when it’s a project we’re doing on our own we’re more likely to give ourselves leeway.
Plus, if it’s a personal project, it’s likely something you care about. This makes it even more important to set a deadline. Why let your boss or professor hog all your productive time!
2. Make Your Deadlines Ambitious. But Realistic
If something takes a month to complete, don’t cram it into a weekend. This will just frustrate you. But when setting a deadline, lean towards a more ambitious one.
Even if you don’t hit the deadline you will likely make more progress than if you pushed your due date into the future.
3. Add Accountability For Extra Credit:
Just setting an ambitious deadline will ramp up the urgency to complete a task. If you want to move the notch up another dial, add accountability.
A simple way to do this is telling a trusted friend you are going to complete something. Just telling them will add social pressure to finish on time. No one wants to look stupid in front of a friend.
If you feel comfortable, make a public proclamation about your goal. Post about it on social media or your blog. The more people who know about it, the harder you’ll focus to meet your deadline.