Your Work Habits: Some Laws are Meant to be Broken


Do you ever find that when you give yourself more time to complete a task, you:

(a)    Procrastinate and then work to the last minute to get it done, despite your intentions to the contrary; and/or

(b)   Spend more time than necessary on the task, knowing you technically have the time to devote to it?

If this sounds familiar, your habits may be falling victim to an age-old productivity maxim, called Parkinson’s Law:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This statement was first articulated in 1955 by the British author, C.N. Parkinson, after observing colleagues in the British Civil Service (think, “The Office”…).

In a nutshell, if you give yourself 3 days to complete a 2 hour task, the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting so as to fill the 3 days. You may not fill the extra time with more work or even spend more than 2 hours on the task in the end, but instead it weighs on you during that period, causing stress and tension until it is done.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

When you think of your mounting to-do list, research to complete, documents to draft, or the appointments/shopping/photo arranging (that one usually hits home…) to conquer, here’s my challenge:

Make a list of the top 5 tasks keeping you up at night, and create your own “artificially imposed deadline”.  Assign a reasonable amount of time to each task, and then cut the time by one third.  Schedule the time in your calendar for each task, eliminate distractions, and START.

To take your “artificially imposed deadline” seriously, use your strengths* to your advantage:

  • If you are competitive, set a timer and beat the clock;
  • If you are an achiever, stay focused on the feeling of crossing the items off your to-do list;
  • If you are analytical, use your laser sharp skills to their max in a concentrated period of time; and
  • If you are motivated by rewards, determine a sweet reward in advance and keep your eyes on the prize (remember, if completing a nagging task gives you a great lift, even if it’s scheduling a few appointments or making one tough phone call, it’s worth the reward).

Try this for one week, and see what happens.

*You have your own set of unique strengths – to determine them, contact me for information on a “strengths based” coaching package to jump start 2012.

If you are overwhelmed with your responsibilities, and have trouble focusing on your priorities, I can help you tackle the important tasks while managing the small stuff.  Contact me at

If you enjoyed my thoughts in this email, please pass it along to other lawyers and corporate professionals who could use help navigating their careers.

I coach lawyers and leaders through transition and turbulence to:

  • Show up 100% at the office and at home;
  • Reduce daily exhaustion and stress;
  • Build in structure and accountability for career plans and business development; and
  • Make confident decisions and navigate relationships to achieve their professional and personal goals.
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