The Reason why All-Nighters Actually Work: Parkinson’s Law & How it Relates to Your Productivity

Imagine this. You’ve been given one month to complete an assessment task. Plenty of time you think; I can research the task, plan it, draft it, edit it and polish it off easily. Fast forward 29 days – there are 2 days left and you haven’t started (we all know that feeling 😬)

Now, you go into overdrive. Pure focus. No procrastination. If someone saw you during this state, they’d think that you have never had any problems staying focussed before (Boy, are they wrong! 😳) Somehow you finish the assignment, hand it in and it’s done! But, how did you complete a month’s worth of work in those two days of non-stop work?🤔

Here’s where Parkinson’s Law comes in.

Parkinson’s Law states that Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This statement was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955. He was a British author and historian who worked in the British Civil Service, and wrote a whole book on this law, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.

Now, let’s try to understand this statement. Basically, the more time you have to complete something, the longer it will take. Conversely, the less time you have to complete something, the more likely it is that you’ll complete it in the proposed time (which is why all-nighters work). But, if a task does not have a specific deadline, it will most likely never get done. 😯

Now that we know this, how can we use Parkinson’s Law to improve our productivity? Normally, when we want to complete something, we make the mistake of giving ourselves extra time to complete it, thinking that this would allow us to perfect our task. But, more often than not, most of that time is spent procrastinating, and only a small portion of that time is actually used effectively. 🤫

The thing about tasks that have very distant deadlines is that because they are so distant, they are not our primary focus. Once, the deadline approaches, the reality of the deadline becomes more intense. It becomes our primary focus because we need to complete the task. We can’t waste time because we don’t have time to waste. This sense of urgency only comes when the deadline is breathing down your neck, and procrastination is out of the question.

The important thing to take out from Parkinson’s Law is that you should always aim to give yourself as little time as possible to complete the task without jeopardising the quality. Even though you might think that giving yourself extra time will allow for quality work, you’ll probably waste time on unimportant things with that extra time (because you have the time to do so ⏳).

But, you need to ensure that you are balanced, in that you don’t start giving yourself one day to complete a task that would realistically take a week. It’s important to be reasonable, whilst still pushing the limits of what’s possible with your time. The worst-case scenario in giving yourself less time is that you will get work done, but might need a little extra time to give it a polish. Which isn’t too bad of a scenario at all. 🤷‍♂️

With tasks that have no deadlines, it’s probably prudent to make one, otherwise they might not end up being completed at all!

Hopefully, now you’ve got a basic idea of how to give yourself deadlines for tasks to maximise your time and how the Parkinson Law relates to all those all-nighters you’ve pulled off over the years. With any luck, you won’t be having any more of those.  

If you have any questions or have any comments, let me down below! 👇😊

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