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8 Tips for Overcoming Parkinson’s Law

Do you seem to never reach the end of your to-do list? You might be over-budgeting your time. Learn about Parkinson’s Law and how to overcome it.

Jodi Monroe
Writer at Motion
Mar 7, 2024
Table of contents

If I have the time, I’ll take it.

All working professionals have experienced Parkinson’s Law, even if they’ve never heard of this sneaky law of the universe. Parkinson’s Law is a time management concept that states the more time you give yourself to complete a project, the longer it will take for you to complete it.

But why does every task expand to fill any extra time you give it? Is there a way to use this phenomenon to your advantage to increase your productivity?

In this article, we dive into what Parkinson’s Law is, explore how it affects individuals and groups, and give you tips on overcoming it for good.

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What is Parkinson’s Law?

Parkinson’s Law is a phenomenon where work “expands” to fill the time you’ve allocated it. It says that if you set aside a full day to reply to a few emails, it will take you the full day to complete that task. But if you set aside just half an hour for this task, it’s unlikely you’ll go over that time to complete it.

Parkinson’s law definition

‎Taking your time to complete a task isn’t always a bad thing, but consistently over-budgeting your time can cause tasks to take much longer than they should. And this leads to delays in starting on other projects. You also run the risk of losing sight of the main goal as you get sidetracked with unimportant details because you have the time, so why not?

Why do we set aside more time to complete tasks than is absolutely necessary? It comes down to three main reasons:

  1. We have an inaccurate idea of how long it will take to complete a task.
  2. We think the longer we have, the better-quality results we can produce.
  3. We want to give ourselves time to fix any mistakes.

Why does work expand to fill the allocated time?

Very few people are immune to the effects of Parkinson’s Law. Understanding why it happens can unlock productivity by making you aware of it when it starts to rear its inefficient, time-wasting head.

There are two main reasons why work expands to fill the allocated time: scope creep and procrastination. Let’s discuss these in more detail.

Scope creep

Scope creep is a phenomenon where a person adds more features, functions, or complexities to a task than they originally intended. It’s the subtle shift of a project away from its original goal due to the addition of extra, nonessential features.

Scope creep fuels Parkinson’s Law because the more time you have, the more complex you’re able to get.

Example of scope creep: Spending hours creating a specialized feature that serves only 8% of your target market, which wasn’t included in the original project plan.

Scope creep expanding task complexity


Procrastination refers to delaying or postponing actions — even putting off tasks until the last minute or after the deadline has already passed.

A recent study on academic procrastination found that it stems from situational temptations and distractions, task-aversiveness, lack of energy, and distance from the desired outcome. In other words, being too far away from your end goal makes it incredibly hard to find the motivation to start working toward that goal.

Example of procrastination: Spending all day doing administrative tasks instead of working on your big project.

Does Parkinson’s Law apply to groups?

Parkinson’s Law isn’t isolated to individuals. Its effects can be felt in group settings, as well. Setting aside too much time for group projects and collaboration can harm the group’s overall productivity.

Typically, Parkinson’s Law in groups materializes in two forms:

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality describes how people working in groups or organizations often spend more time and attention focusing on trivial matters than they should.

This happens because the team members trip over each other when too many of them focus on the same thing. It takes longer to collect and discuss each member’s opinion, and the chance of running into disagreements that take time to resolve becomes higher.

To combat this effect, teams try to spread their efforts — often picking up trivial matters just to feel like they’re contributing to the group. In doing so, they unwittingly invite scope creep to rule the project.

Social loafing

Social loafing happens when people are less productive when working in a group than they are individually.

When working collectively, social influence and responsibility are spread evenly among the group members, reducing the amount of responsibility each member feels toward the success of the project. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in situations where individual contributions and tasks aren’t clear.

A graph showing the social loafing concept

‎The first reason social loafing takes place is perceived reduced accountability since the entire team shares responsibility for the end product. Other contributing factors include coordination loss when teams struggle to act as one mind and motivation loss when each member trusts the rest of the team to reach the desired goal.

Whatever the reason behind their reduced efforts, when each member of a team isn’t contributing their best, tasks will take longer to complete (until, of course, the deadline is imminent and everyone scrambles to finish).

How to overcome Parkinson’s Law

Some people try to combat Parkinson’s Law — or even take advantage of it — by giving themselves too little time to complete a task. But this approach leads to a rushed process and can reduce the quality of the final result.

Obviously, using super-tight deadlines isn’t sustainable or an effective way to increase your productivity. So let’s look at what you can do to overcome Parkinson’s Law. Here are eight tips that will help.

1. Know your desired endpoint

Before diving into any task or project, you need to have a clear picture of your desired goal. Utilize popular goal-setting methods like the SMART goals technique, and keep your goals visible at all times to focus your attention in the right direction.

A trap that many people fall into is aiming to overachieve. Taking this approach sets you up for scope creep. Beyond figuring out what your ideal result is, you also need to determine what your “good enough” result looks like. Setting this bare minimum result in stone keeps you focused on the original plan.

Lastly, it’s important to define your performance trackers. These explain what counts as progress toward your goal and how often you want to see progress. Because any work you do that doesn’t fit the description of these performance trackers doesn’t count as progress, you’ll be motivated to stick to your original plan and avoid scope creep.

2. Set deadlines and milestones

Clear, self-imposed deadlines and project milestones hold you accountable as you work toward your goal. They break each larger project into manageable steps and generate a sense of urgency and time pressure, keeping you motivated and discouraging procrastination.

Dividing tasks into smaller pieces also forces you to be realistic with the amount of work you can achieve in a set amount of time. You can see if you’ve set too many or too few goals for your timeline and adjust to avoid missing deadlines.

Having a predetermined timeline filled with personal deadlines builds momentum, driving your productivity level through the roof. Motion helps you take advantage of this momentum by organizing your tasks intelligently so you can meet your deadlines without becoming overwhelmed.

Motion Calendar Builder

‎3. Track your time

Time tracking, where you gain clarity over how you spend your time, helps prevent Parkinson’s Law from affecting your current and future projects.

In your current projects, time tracking makes you aware of how you’re spending your time so you know if you’ve wasted time or procrastinated. It keeps you on track to achieving your mini-goals that build toward the final result.

Tracking your time also helps your future projects by allowing you to train your time estimation skills. In doing so, you can set aside the right amount of time for each project. Realistic time budgeting, which is an essential part of overcoming Parkinson’s Law, requires an accurate understanding of how long tasks actually take you to complete.

4. Try time boxing

Time boxing is a time management method where you set aside a certain amount of time to work on a task and evaluate your progress afterward. You aren’t allowed to spend more time on a task than whatever period of time you set at the beginning.

Time boxing can help you overcome Parkinson’s Law by aligning the question of “How much time do I have to complete this?” with “How much time do I need to complete this?” It prevents both scope creep and procrastination from hindering you since you don’t have time to add more features or get distracted by trivial matters or chatty colleagues.

In many ways, using realistic time boxes lets you harness Parkinson’s Law for your own good.

5. Define your scope

Realistically, what’s in and out of scope for your project?

Your project scope defines the parameters your project needs to fit within, making it easy to stay focused and on target.

Consider the following factors when defining your scope:

  • Goals and key objectives
  • Project requirements
  • Deliverables
  • Tasks and activities
  • Exclusions
  • Constraints

Defining your scope at the start of a project also helps you set and hold boundaries with over-enthusiastic clients and colleagues who propose extra ideas and features without considering the amount of work necessary to make those ideas happen.

6. Identify your trade-offs

Your trade-offs define your priorities and the things you’re willing to compromise on. Identifying them means deciding on the most and least important factors of the project.

Common trade-offs include time, scope, and budget.

Even with the best planning, unexpected problems can crop up. You want to know your priorities ahead of time so you can make quick decisions and stick to the schedule.

For example, you can include the extra features your client proposes (prioritizing scope), but it will take longer to complete the project (sacrificing time). Or, you can speed up the process (prioritizing time) if the client is willing to invest more money into the project (sacrificing budget).

Identify trade-offs balancing scale

‎7. Use time management tools

Time management tools help you maximize your productivity each time you work, helping build a habit of getting things done as quickly as possible. Parkinson’s Law won’t crash the party if you’ve made a habit of efficiency.

The best time management strategies for Parkinson’s Law include the following:

The best time management tools for Parkinson’s Law include the following:

  • Time trackers
  • Motion’s AI-powered task management tool

Motion’s powerful scheduling tool keeps track of deadlines for you, organizes tasks by priority so you don’t get sidetracked by unimportant work, and reduces the amount of time you spend planning, giving you more time in the day — and, as a result, the ability to set earlier deadlines. With a few clicks, you’ll have an optimized schedule that’s ready to adapt to your needs.

8. Plan for the worst

We’re not saying you should be pessimistic, but you should think through the most likely things that could go wrong and decide how you’ll respond to them. To prevent analysis paralysis, limit yourself to the three most likely issues. Try to identify anything that could derail or delay your progress or distract you from your goal.

Having a general idea of how you want to respond to emergencies will help you act quickly when problems do pop up.

Overcome Parkinson’s Law with Motion

If I can complete it quickly, I will.

Flipping the script on Parkinson’s Law can take some work, but it doesn’t take long for these productive habits to stick. With awareness, time management strategies, and the right technology, you’ll be completing high-quality tasks quickly in no time.

Productivity tools like Motion can help you shave precious time off your planning, letting you focus on the tasks that really matter.

If you’re ready to get way more done each day then you ever thought possible, try Motion for free today.

Jodi Monroe
Jodi Monroe is a content writer and blogger in the SaaS space. When not at her laptop, she’s planning her next travel adventure.
Written by Jodi Monroe