Why It Takes All Day To Do a Task

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 4.14.50 PM

A Quick Note: This post originally appeared in “The Load In” the weekly email from Startup Musician. To get it before it hits the blog, sign up below.

Alright, time for another round of confessions, but this time for a, uh, friend of mine.

Sometimes at the end of a long day, I look back and marvel at everything I got accomplished. How did I manage to get all of it done?

This is the exception though, not the rule. More often than not I get to the end of the day thinking, “man, I wish I had gotten more done, I don’t know what happened to my day.”

Do you ever have something you need to do, and you have all day to do it? You would think you could finish whatever the task is by 10am, but for some reason it takes you ALL DAY to do it? (Speaking for my friend)

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 4.24.54 PM

Parkinson’s Law

This is a concept called Parkinson’s Law. This law says that work expands to fit the time available for its completion. Translation: if you’ve allotted all day to complete a single task, it’s going to take you all day to finish it. Remember in middle school science class how we learned that gases expand to fill their containers? Same idea.


Again, this is something my friend does.

I’m  shocked when it takes me all day to complete a task, but then the next day when I have much more to do, I’m still able to squeeze in the same task, along with a handful of other things. This just goes to show that Parkinson’s Law is true! If I have to chart something out in 30 minutes, I can do it (depending on the song). But if I’ve allotted 3 hours to do that same task, I’ll spend my time fiddling with fonts, writing in jokes on the chart, browsing facebook, and taking my sweet time.


Here’s a picture of a recent chart I made. See what I mean?

I can say definitively that every essay I ever wrote in college was finished less than an hour before it was due. You probably know just what I mean. Parkinson’s Law will ensure you waste your time, get less stuff done, and procrastinate along the way.

Now, there are definitely certain things that you should plan on having unstructured time to work on. Practicing your instrument, songwriting, experimenting with sounds, and things of that nature. The kinds of things that are affected by Parkinson’s Law are the things that have a definite start and end point.

So, what’s the solution?

If I know I have to get my stupid Shania Twain chart made in a half an hour, I’m going to do it. If I don’t have to get it done until tomorrow night, it’s not going to get done until tomorrow night. So instead, impose an artificial deadline. Make a specific time that it needs to be done by. You’ll subconsciously prioritize it, and it’ll magically get done.

Your Assignment

Here’s what I want you to do: start noticing Parkinson’s Law at play in your life. Start noticing how much time you’re allotting for structured tasks, and start imposing artificial deadlines for yourself. This will make sure you get more done, and have more time to work on the important, unstructured stuff.