Want to be a designer who gets more work done in less time?
Use Parkinson’s law to your advantage to crush your design project deadlines and accelerate your design career.
In 1955, British scholar and author C. Northcote Parkinson wrote “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
Even though he was writing decades before the inception of UX, Sketch, XD, UI’s or the personal computer, he articulated what happens pretty much all the time with designers. Let’s say you have a design project with a deadline…. “It’s due in TWO weeks? Excellent… I can get it done in two weeks… this project isn’t too big… that’s enough time…” you tell yourself. And then seemingly magically… the project takes exactly the full two weeks to complete.
But what would have happened if you were given only one week to complete the same project? Could you still have completed quality work and delivered by the deadline?
Most of the time, the answer is a resounding “yes”.
We all have a history of hitting deadlines at least most of the time, otherwise we wouldn’t have a design job, and freelance clients wouldn’t pay us. Regardless of the deadline, we tend to get the work done and turned in on-time 99% of the time.
So how do you make Parkinson’s law work to your advantage? How can you dominate deadlines and get stuff done in less time?
1. Let go of perfectionism
If you want to make Parkinson’s law work to your advantage, you need to put the fallacy of perfectionism behind you. I’ve written about how perfectionism is bogus in the past, so I won’t go too deep into it here.
Jason Fried, the legendary startup founder and designer wrote on the topic in his fantastic book Rework: “Workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than nonworkaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they’re wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task.”
If you want to make Parkinson’s law work to your advantage, you’ll need to leave the pretend world of perfectionism behind.
2. Set your own (earlier) deadlines and commit
Make a habit of giving yourself less time to complete projects. Have a design project due in four days? What would it take to get it done in two? Set an earlier deadline as a challenge for yourself, and then commit. Holding yourself accountable to your earlier deadline is essential.
Continually missing your own deadlines isn’t going to help you improve your own performance. Parkinson’s law would still be in effect, it would just be happening to you instead of working for you. Committing is vital.
3. Get over the fear
If you’re afraid that completing more projects will result in more work, you need to move past that fear. Yes, knocking out more work faster typically leads to… more work.
If you’re going to get promoted or make a big jump in your career, you’ll need to get intentional. It isn’t going to happen by accident or on auto-pilot. You’ll need to push through old limitations to move forward and level-up.
The reward that high performers are often given for their work is more work, and/or more responsibility. That’s is how it works.
Getting more work done means that you’re becoming more valuable to your boss and company. Over time this tends to result in more pay, a promotion, or preparing yourself for a better opportunity elsewhere.