The Authentic Assistant

Work expands to fill time. Be productive not busy. time management.

How many of us have heard this quote “work expands to fill available time” and not really thought about what it really means and where it even came from.

I remember hearing it first when I was a child and it didn’t seem to make sense. Oh how things have changed as an adult.

Where does it come from?

It actually is Parkinson’s Law of time management which states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

We could of course go into the history of who he was and how it came about. That in 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson who was a famous British historian and management theorist (who knows what that is?) came up with the phrase to explain how people use whatever time is allocated to them to complete the task assigned to them.

This has always been the case throughout history. He didn’t discover something new but he did write about it and explain its meaning.

If you want to go into the history of it and understand it more from that viewpoint the interweb is your friend.

I want to mention it from today’s perspective in everyday life.

Have you told your child to clean their room and wondered why they are there all day? Well without giving them a time frame they can use the task “Clean your room” and start playing with things in the room and even drag it out to the next day.

If you are a student or even employee and you have a project or assignment to do and a deadline. That date is in your mind and you think oh I have “X” amount of time to do it. You end up procrastinating and it is a rush job the night or day before.

We are guilty of doing this without even realising that we are.

What if you allocated a time frame to a task?

How productive could you be with the time allocated?

You get a message that a friend or relative is on their way over to your place and you panic. My home is not clean. Wow! It is amazing what can be done in a small time frame. Is it perfect? Probably not, but it is progress and may even motivate you to continue the clean after the person has left the home.

To get your children to tidy their room a different approach is to phrase it

“If you want to go and play with your friends you have to tidy your room first.” or “If your room is tidy by the time I wash the dishes we can head out to the park.”

You may be surprised that the room is tidy. Is it your standard of tidy? Maybe not but it is tidier than before and that is a win on some days.

If you have a task to do and you know you will procrastinate, how about giving yourself the time limit and see how different you think about the task now.

As a mother it is almost life altering just how much you can achieve in the short time your child is having a nap.

How do you set time limits for tasks?

Try these four simple steps and see what happens.

STEP ONE: Make a list of all your tasks

Just clear your mind of all the tasks you have to do, both personal and work related ones.

If this sounds like a brain dump then read more about them here. 


STEP TWO: Identify the important tasks and prioritise them

On reading the list you will know which ones need to be done today and which ones are urgent. This will give you an understanding of how much time you have today to complete these tasks.

STEP THREE: Allocate time it takes to complete them

Some of the tasks will be time intensive. They can they be broken down into steps to make them more achievable.

STEP FOUR: Don't forget to breath

Take a break to refresh your mind and motivate yourself for the next task.

Get up and leaving the room for a glass of water. Cross things off the list that you have done, anything to bring your mind back on track.

STEP FIVE: Now try and halve the time that you have allocated to each task

Challenge yourself to complete the tasks within your given timeframe.

If you find yourself struggling to complete a task and you don’t know how to continue, walking away from it may bring a new perspective on it and you see a solution that was not obvious before.

Try it out and see what happens with your to do list. Have you noticed an improvement in your productivity levels and your list is getting smaller? If it does you are on to a winner.

It's time to look at this quote in a different way

Work does expand to fill the available time but it is up to you to manage the time you are given.

Even if you are given a deadline of Friday to have the project or assignment done, there is nothing stopping you giving yourself the time frame of completing it by Wednesday or Thursday. This allows you the time to focus on it and finish it while having a bit of time to walk away from it and check it again before handing it over.

If you make lists of tasks to do, how about grouping them into different categories.

Are there 5 minute ones that you have to do regularly? Or 10 minute ones.

Eg check the inbox for incoming work. A quick check and allocate any relevant emails for updates.

Making a phone call in between tasks.

Can you group a few together? If you are in town and need different things can they be done in one trip.

No need to go everyday into town for each individual thing.

We only have a set amount of time each day and we all have so much to do. It seems that that we have less time than ever and just how much of our precious time is lost in procrastination.

Of course there is also a point where when you acknowledge that you are struggling to manage it all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Is there something that someone else can do from your list then why not ask. This of course depends on the task in question.

If you are trying to manage your own business there is always the option of finding a virtual assistant to help out even on a short term basis.

Challenge yourself to make Parkinson's Law work for you

Work expands to fill time. Click here and find out more

Related Articles