I have always been taught that procrastination is a bad thing. As a college student, I would put off writing a paper or doing a major project for as long as possible as they typically were not much fun. There was just something about a big project that was intimidating and resulted in me putting if off for as long as possible.
I am sure many people can relate. How many people have been up most of the night before a major paper or project was due? Or maybe you were up all night studying for the big test because you just didn’t feel like it. This is what procrastination is. Putting off till tomorrow what should be done today. We were all taught that it was bad, but there is a new way of thinking that is saying otherwise.
Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, if you have a week to study, you will study for a week. If you have a night to study, you will study for a night. Makes sense, but even more important is…do you need to take a week to study or does it only require a night? Does it really take a month to do the big project, or can you bust it out in one or two days?
The 10 Hour Science Project
Parkinson’s Law basically says that we tend to expand the amount of resources and time spent on something based on the amount of time we allot for it. For example…let’s say you have to put together a science project. You know, one of those projects that requires a shoe box and some creativity. I can see you guys rolling your eyes now as you remember these. Now, if you take two hours a night for five days to work on the project, you will have ten hours invested. You will most likely overvalue certain parts of the project. Things like, the size or color of something you use in the project. You end up spending the entire time you have allotted to overthink what you need to do. The project ends up taking at least ten hours and maybe even more as you become a bit of a perfectionist around what needs to be done.
The 3 Hour Science Project
Now imagine you only have three hours to work on the same science project. You tend to not over-analyze anything. You put the requirements in the project as quickly as you can. You are not worried if the size or color of something isn’t perfect. You put it in there because it needs to be there. You say, “I will use this for now and maybe change it once I have the general project done.” But guess what? You end up leaving it the way it is. You determine you have met the requirements and have done a pretty good job. There is no overthinking and you knock the project out in under three hours.
How Did You Save 7 Hours On The Science Project???
By limiting your time to only three hours to complete the project, it simply took three hours. This is what Parkinson’s Law is saying. If you set aside more time than you actually need to complete something, you will tend to take that amount of time. Sometimes this is an advantage, sometimes it’s a disadvantage. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all. The difference in the 10 Hour Project vs. the 3 Hour project was that you were hyper-focused. You didn’t have time to waste. You were in the zone and things just flowed. In the 10 Hour Project, in your subconscious, you knew you had plenty of time, so the project took longer. You may not have been focused and never really got in the zone.
If you understand and apply Parkinson’s Law well, you can save yourself lots of time. You can force yourself to get in the zone and really kick some major butt on anything you are doing. Maybe you would get an “A” on the 10 Hour Project and a “B” on the 3 Hour Project. Maybe it would have been the other way around. The difference is the amount of time you saved for what you got out of your effort. Hell, I was in a rush today and had to write this post in under 30 minutes. Typically these take me about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. I got this one done in 25 minutes. Can anyone say, “Parkinson’s Law???”