Parkinson's Law

Harnessing Parkinson’s Law for Better Time Management

What is Parkinson’s Law?


At its core, Parkinson’s Law states that tasks stretch or shrink in accordance with the time we allocate to them. If you’ve ever noticed that a two-week project seems to get completed just in the nick of time, or that a one-day chore tends to fill the entire day, you’ve witnessed this principle in action.

In the realm of productivity and time management, few principles have made as significant an impact as Parkinson’s Law. Originally coined by C. Northcote Parkinson in 1955, this adage — “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” — was primarily a satirical observation on bureaucracy. Today, it serves as a guiding principle for those seeking to make the most of their hours.


Implications in Modern Work Culture


With the rise of remote work, flexible schedules, and digital distractions, Parkinson’s Law becomes even more pertinent. Without set boundaries, tasks can balloon, filling up available hours, leading to decreased efficiency and a sense of perpetual busyness. This phenomenon can lead to burnout and the feeling that one is always “on the clock.”


Strategies for Limiting the Effects of Parkinson’s Law


Set Clear Deadlines:

Instead of giving yourself a broad window, set a specific deadline. By doing this, you’re psychologically prompting yourself to finish the task within that window.

Break Tasks into Smaller Chunks:

Rather than setting aside an entire day for a project, break it into smaller tasks with their own mini-deadlines. This approach, known as time-boxing, can foster focus and a sense of accomplishment with each completed task.

Also Read: Effective Time Management Techniques.

Use Timers:

Tools like the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working intensely for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break, can help you stay on track and ensure you’re allocating appropriate amounts of time to each task.

Review and Reflect:

At the end of each week, look back at your tasks. Were there instances where work expanded unnecessarily? Reflecting on your patterns can help you adjust and better allocate your time in the future.

Limit Multitasking:

Contrary to popular belief, multitasking can dilute focus. By handling one task at a time and assigning specific time slots to each, you can avoid letting tasks expand beyond their necessary limits.


Examples of Parkinson’s Law


School Project Example: The History Presentation


Imagine you’re a student assigned a 10-minute history presentation on the Renaissance. Your teacher gives the class a generous two months to prepare. Feeling you have ample time, you spend the first few weeks casually browsing related articles and watching videos. As weeks progress, you occasionally jot down some notes, thinking there’s plenty of time to refine and practice later.

With one week left, you realize you’ve only gathered general knowledge, without any clear structure or compelling visuals for your presentation. Panic sets in. Suddenly, those last seven days become a blur of late-night research sessions, frantic slide-making, and rushed rehearsals.

On presentation day, you manage to deliver, but it’s evident that your work, though spanning two months, was mostly crammed into the final week. Your extensive preparation time paradoxically led to procrastination and last-minute efforts.

Had the teacher set a tighter deadline, say three weeks, you might have approached the task with more urgency from the start, efficiently organizing your time and producing a well-prepared presentation without the unnecessary stress.

This scenario perfectly encapsulates Parkinson’s Law: The history presentation, which could have been effectively completed in a shorter timeframe, expanded to fill the generous two-month period, leading to inefficiency and last-minute scrambling.


Software Development Example: The App Feature Update


Imagine you’re a software developer on a team tasked with implementing a new feature for an existing app. This feature is a simple “Night Mode” toggle, changing the app’s theme to be easier on the eyes in low-light conditions. The team estimates that, realistically, the work needed can be completed in one week. However, to be accommodating, the project manager assigns a flexible deadline of one month, thinking this will ensure quality and reduce pressure.

With such a generous timeline, the first week involves casual brainstorming sessions, discussions about possible additional enhancements, and debating over the perfect shade of dark theme colors. As the days progress, instead of focusing solely on the core feature, the team starts thinking of adding minor complementary features, like transition animations and adjustable theme brightness.

By the third week, only the foundational work for the Night Mode is in place. The team then realizes that with just one week left, they need to scramble. The added features, initially seen as “nice-to-haves,” are now causing delays. The final week is a mix of bug fixes, hurried testing, and compromises on the initially envisioned quality.

When the deadline arrives, the Night Mode is launched, but with a few glitches and without some of the enhancements the team had hoped to include. What could have been a smooth one-week project turned into a stressful month of work, thanks to the extended timeframe leading to scope creep and inefficiencies.

This illustrates Parkinson’s Law in the context of software development: The simple feature update, which could have been delivered efficiently in a week, expanded in complexity and effort due to the prolonged deadline, leading to unanticipated challenges and less-than-optimal results.


Home Remodeling Example: The Kitchen Makeover


Imagine you’ve decided to undertake a kitchen remodeling project. Your primary goals are to repaint the walls, change the countertops, and install new light fixtures. You believe, based on initial assessments, that this can be accomplished in two weekends. However, given your personal and work schedules, you generously allocate six weekends to complete it, thinking this will offer ample flexibility.

With such a comfortable timeline, the first weekend is spent leisurely browsing paint swatches, researching countertop materials, and casually visiting home improvement stores. It’s relaxed and exploratory, with the comfort of knowing there’s plenty of time left.

As the weeks progress, you begin to consider additional upgrades that weren’t initially planned. Perhaps it’s time to also change the kitchen tiles? Or what about those modern smart home appliances you saw advertised? And wouldn’t under-cabinet lighting be a great addition?

By the fourth weekend, while you’ve made some headway with the paint and countertops, you’re now also entangled in tile samples, smart appliance reviews, and researching the intricacies of installing under-cabinet lighting systems.

Week five sees a sudden rush of activity. The reality of the approaching deadline sets in, and the kitchen is in disarray. The simple remodeling project now feels like a full-scale home renovation.

By the end of the sixth weekend, while most of the initial tasks are complete, the kitchen is still scattered with half-finished additional projects, some of which had to be postponed due to time constraints.

Had you stuck to the original two-weekend plan, your kitchen makeover would have likely concluded efficiently with the core upgrades finished to satisfaction. Instead, the extended timeline led to project scope expansion, unnecessary stress, and a kitchen that took longer to complete.

This scenario epitomizes Parkinson’s Law in a home remodeling context: The kitchen project, which had a clear and manageable scope, expanded unnecessarily due to the self-imposed extended timeline, leading to complications and a race against time.



While Parkinson’s Law was penned over half a century ago, its implications in our modern world are more relevant than ever. By recognizing the way time influences our work habits, and by setting intentional boundaries, we can take control of our hours, boost productivity, and enjoy a better work-life balance. As Parkinson himself might say, it’s not about having more time, but making the most of the time we have.



Basil Abbas

Basil is the Founder and CTO at ClockIt. With over 10 years of experience in the products space, there is no challenge that is too big in front of him be it sales, marketing, coding, etc. A people person and loves working in a startup for perfection.