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If you work in project management, without question, one of the biggest hurdles you face on a daily basis is time management. Your job is reliant on making sure tasks are completed within a timeline, which means efficiency and productivity are key.

To be a successful project manager, you need to be continuously learning and growing. That means taking classes, attending webinars, and of course, reading reading reading. In your research about streamlining your project management style, you may have come across a very important time management term: Parkinson’s Law.

If you’ve asked yourself, “What Parkinson’s Law?,” you’re in the right place. We’ve put together a guide to what Parkinson’s Law is and how it can revolutionize the way you approach your work.

What is Parkinson’s Law?

Parkinson’s Law is a decades-old adage that says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The sentence was first coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in his 1995 essay for The Economist and later reprinted in the 1958 book Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress. The concept was based on Parkinson’s experience in the British Civil Service and primarily refers to bureaucracy growth, but has now been applied as an important time management principle.

Parkinson’s Law & Time Management

In terms of time management, Parkinson’s Law challenges the notion that working harder means working better. What Parkinson suggests is that a project will take as long as the time you set for it. If you give a one-hour project a one-hour timeline, you will complete it in that time. If you give a one hour project a six-month timeline, you will overcomplicate it and add unnecessary stress to the task at hand.

The overarching principle behind Parkinson’s Law time management theory is that by assigning accurate deadlines to tasks, you can maintain the simplicity of the task and reclaim your time.

At the end of the day, Parkinson is trying to tell us that sometimes, we just give projects too much time to complete. As a project manager, it’s important to note that working longer doesn’t translate to working better.

How to Use Parkinson’s Law Time Management to Your Advantage

Now that you know what Parkinson’s Law is, you can start benefiting from the theory. Here’s how:

1. Work faster, not harder.

The guiding principle tells us that we can get anything done in whatever amount of time we set for it. Time management best practices tell us to build buffers into our timelines to allow for unforeseen setbacks and to ensure we’re not breaking promises to stakeholders – and that’s still key.

But what Parkinson’s Law reminds us is that you can combine reasonable time and work estimates with a little optimism, and aim for getting deadlines just right. You might think overestimating timelines gives you the leeway you need, but it could end up wasting resources without adding quality to your deliverables.

2. Treat it like a sport.

Gamify your team’s workload. Treat hitting deadlines like hitting home runs, and reward teams for beating deadlines without sacrificing quality. This strategy works especially well for those working in Agile teams who have already embraced speed as a driving force for productivity.

3. Squash your productivity killers.

Because you’re in a race to complete your tasks, you have no time to get distracted by emails and social posts. While entirely eliminating these things is nearly impossible, there are ways to control them using the wisdom of Parkinson’s Law. Create a deadline for these items as well. Five minutes for email per day. Ten minutes for social posts. Voila!

Increase your business agility with Clarizen’s project management software

Of course, another great way to reclaim your time as a project manager is to implement a project management software, like Clarizen. Request a live demo today.


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