10 Laws That Affect Your Time Management

Did you know that there are various laws, rules and principles that govern our behaviour and affect our time management?

I didn’t until quite recently.

I’ve shared ten of them with you here. How many of them do you recognize in your daily behaviour?

1. Parkinson’s Law

This is probably the most commonly-cited law when it comes to time management.

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

Parkinson’s Law

So, to put it another way, if you have one day to complete a task, you will find a way to get it done in a day, but if you give yourself a week, it will take the whole seven days to complete what could have been done in a day.

There is definitely something about deadlines that has kind of impact on us mentally.

If you are conscious of this peculiar trait we seem to have as humans, you may be able to use it to your advantage but setting your own time limits, deadlines and constraints in order to simulate the focus and attention we can muster up at times when the pressure is on and the deadlines are looming. Using the Pomodoro Technique can help.

Read more about Parkinson’s Law >>>

2. Carlson’s Law

This law is named after there Swedish economist, Sune Carlson (1909–1999), and is also known as the Law of Homogenous Sequences. This states that,

“a task completed in one single stretch will be completed much faster than doing the same task in multiple attempts or multiple goals.”

Carlson’s Law

In other words, work that is continually interrupted will take more time than if it were completed in a single stretch.

That may seem obvious, but how often do you start a task, get interrupted, get back to it, get distracted again, get back to it and so on?

I know it happens to me frequently.

Being aware of it is the first step to overcoming this problem.

Because once you recognize it, you can put measures in place to avoid distractions.

For example, improve email management, avoid multi-tasking and context switching, complete a task fully before moving to the next, eliminate social media, create an optimal working environment, etc.

3. The Principle of Least Effort

Some people call this Laborit’s Law and attribute it to Henri Laborit (1914-1995) who was a French surgeon, neurobiologist, writer and philosopher, but it seems to be quite a broad theory covering numerous fields.

The basis of it is that, as humans, we are all naturally inclined to put off difficult or complicated tasks. If we’re faced with a difficult situation, we instinctively seek a less stressful and more pleasurable one instead. We naturally choose the path of least resistance or effort.

This is part of the reason we procrastinate on bigger, more difficult tasks.

To overcome this inclination, start your day by attacking the difficult/hard task (Eat That Frog!) and then offer yourself a reward as soon as it is finished. And make sure you schedule your days in advance depending on the difficulty of your activities.

Read more: How To Create A Schedule >>>

4. Law of Diminishing Returns

The Law of Diminishing (Marginal) Returns is technically a principle of economics, but it can be applied more informally to express the observation that when you work continuously on a task, there comes a point after which you start to become less and less productive.

While this may seem to contradict Carlson’s Law, the fact is our energy and focus follow natural rhythms, known as Ultradian Rhythms, which move through cycles of about 90-120 minutes.

So while it is better to work continuously on a task without interruption, we also have to consider our own stamina.

Taking regular microbreaks and using the Pomodoro Technique can help us to maintain higher levels of focus and productivity.

5. Hofstadter’s Law

The eponymous Hofstadter’s Law was coined by Douglas Hofstadter, an American scholar of physics, cognitive science and comparative literature and outlined in his book, “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid”.

In the book, he states:

“It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

Hofstadter’s Law

When it comes to completing tasks, they have a tendency to take much longer than expected, which can result in deadlines being delayed and schedules slipping or shifting.

This is a similar idea to the Planning Fallacy (see #9 below).

To dodge demonstrating Hofstadter’s Law, spend time considering each task and activity carefully to estimate the duration and schedule time accordingly.

6. Law of The Vital Few

Sometimes called the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule, this is commonly applied to business and can be basically summarized as 80% of a given effect comes from 20% of the possible causes.

For example, 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients; or 80% of a nations’ wealth is held by 20% of its citizens, etc.

The application of this principle to time management means analyzing your priorities to ensure you focus on the most important tasks only. Delegate or drop the inconsequential tasks.

You can use the Eisenhower Box, the ABCDE Method or the Carver Matrix to do this.

7. Law of Inertia

The Law of Inertia, also known as Newton’s First Law of Motion, states that

“a body at rest will remain at rest and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force.”

Newton’s First Law of Motion

Ok, so that’s physics.

You’re probably wondering how that relates to time management, right?

Simply put, it reminds us that if we’re not proactive and don’t take action, we don’t get anything done – a body at rest will remain at rest. Taking action is the key to better time management and productivity.

It won’t happen without an external force. Just do it.

8. Lewin’s Equation

Lewin’s equation states that Behaviour is a function of the Person and his or her Environment, written in the form of an equation as:


It is a well-known formula today in social psychology, but before it was first cited by psychologist, Kurt Lewin, in his book, “Principles of Topological Psychology” in 1936, most experts in the field believed that someone’s habits and behaviour were a result of their temperament and personality, not the environment they were in at the time.

This ‘equation’ fundamentally changed the way we look at human behaviour and habits.

And you can apply it to time management habits.

We know that we can influence ‘P’ (the Person) by taking action to improve our skills and abilities through knowledge, training and deliberate practice.

And we know we can influence ‘E’ (our Environment) by controlling who and what is around us.

So, for example, you can learn and implement strategies and methods to use your time more efficiently and you can choose to work in a quieter place or at an earlier time of day if you have something you need to focus on.

You can also influence your digital environment by going offline or using site blocker, etc.

9. The Planning Fallacy

The Planning Fallacy is a phenomenon similar to Hofstadter’s Law in which people display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed to complete a future task.

The optimism bias only affects predictions about one’s own tasks, as when outside observers predict task completion times, they tend to overestimate the time needed, demonstrating a pessimistic bias.

A common example of this is seen at college, where students frequently underestimate the time required to complete an assignment and end up pulling all-nighters to meet the deadline.

The crux of this is that we tend to be too optimistic about what we can get done in a given time and end up rushing to get things finished or missing deadlines completely.

Even if we are organized, this can make things difficult when it comes to scheduling our time.

The best way to overcome this is simply to practise – and get a second opinion. The more frequently we do a particular type of task, the better we become at estimating how long it will take.

The other thing you can do is to do an exercise where you predict how long each of your daily tasks take and then audit them to see how long they take for real.

10. Murphy’s Law

Also known as “Sod’s Law” in the UK, it’s the law that

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Murphy’s Law

And with that in mind, it is good practice to prepare contingency plans as often as possible when working on your tasks.

This doesn’t mean that you have to take a pessimistic approach to everything you do, but if you can anticipate potential problems as and when you are scheduling your tasks, you can save yourself a lot of trouble.

For example, giving yourself 45 minutes to get to an appointment that you know should only take you 30 minutes will give you a buffer in the event of heavy traffic.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

Identifying a particular behaviour is the first step in changing it.

Time management can be a difficult skill to master, but when we are more familiar with the nature of human behaviour and the “laws” that govern it, we will find it much easier to make the necessary adjustments to our own habits that will hopefully improve the way in which we manage our time.

[Featured image credit: Stas Knop]

Leave a Comment