The Productivity Paradox: Why Having Too Much Time Leads to Less Work Done

Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay

More time = more opportunities to fail

Imagine it’s finally Saturday, and the only task on your to-do list is to send a birthday gift to your old friend.

You ordered him a book from his favorite author and a cool t-shirt, and all you have to do now is put them in a box, write a funny postcard, stick an address label on and take it to the closest drop-off point.

You start with a postcard, trying to write something special and witty, but nothing comes to your mind. You google a list of best b-day wishes, and after a thirty-minute hunt, you finally choose the right quote.

You scribble your friend’s address on a sticker but concerned about your poor handwriting, you decide to print out the label instead.

After the printer turns on, you notice it’s out of a cartridge.

So you head over to Amazon to get a new one — and discover your favorite fashion brand on sale.

Two hours later

Two hours later, there’s still no label on the box, there’s still no cartridge ordered, and your Amazon shopping cart is filled with some crap you don’t really need.

If you found yourself in this or a similar scenario, you’re not alone.

Procrastinating and wasting time is something we all do, and unless we have a strict time frame to complete tasks, our minds start to wander, and we end up doing unrelated stuff we didn’t plan to do.

In simple words, the more time we have, the less productive and efficient we tend to be.

This phenomenon was first introduced by C. Northcote Parkinson, a British author, who noticed that,

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

His insights on productivity and management made him a bestselling author, and the quote above became regarded as Parkinson’s law.

More time means more complexity

If you had to finish the task described above during a busy day, you’d drop the gifts into the box, quickly jot down on the postcard Happy B-Day, I miss you so much, write the address, and run to the drop-off point.

Without the search for the funniest quote or worries about poor handwriting, you did the job in less than ten minutes — because you couldn’t choose otherwise.

This no-frills example demonstrates our work efficiency is based on the time available, and it contradicts the common (but often false) belief,

The more time I have, the more I can finish.

While Parkinson’s Law is an observation rather than a scientific principle, many studies proved its accuracy. One of the studies conducted on college students showed that those with less time to accomplish tasks consistently performed better, compared to their peers with plenty of time.


There are more of them, and they’re generally applicable to anyone:

  • Time abundance can lead to procrastination.
  • Time abundance can cause distractions and decreases our focus.
  • Time abundance gives us an opportunity to look for unrelated problems we’d like to solve instead of focusing on the main problem.


  • Lack of time forces us to find the quickest and simplest solution.
  • Lack of time that causes mild stress makes us more productive and alert.
  • Lack of time challenges your mental and cognitive abilities and brings out the best in you.

Understanding these points allows you to reframe your thinking about productivity and time management and erases the naive belief that more time automatically guarantees more work done.

The solution hides in constant challenges

Everyone wants to get back to their comfort zones as soon as possible, so making yourself (occasionally) uncomfortable can significantly speed up task completion.

Thus, to be more productive, start challenging yourself. Once you begin, you’ll realize that accomplishing more in less time isn’t a paradox.

Try the following methods.

  1. Give yourself the least time possible — Extended deadlines give you a lot of opportunities to fail. Tight deadlines, however, make you stick to the crucial part of the work. You won’t get bothered by less relevant factors, and consequently, you’ll strive to find the easiest solutions.
  2. Get uncomfortable behind your computer — Standing behind your computer makes your work less comfortable and forces you to complete tasks faster. It also decreases the likelihood of checking nonessential things or ending up in your favorite e-shop.
  3. Put your time into a box — Set a time frame for each particular activity and aim to finish it during this time without giving yourself the option to add extra time. This technique helps you be more deliberate about your time usage and concentrate only on the critical objective.
  4. Stop distracting your brain — One study revealed that after being distracted, our brain needs around 23 minutes to get back to the initial task. Thus, tiny distractions like phone notifications can tremendously decrease your focus and productivity. Multitasking causes the same effects.
  5. Keep your head clear — Having numerous things on your mind makes you disorganized. Your brain gets confused and doesn’t recognize what to focus on predominantly. As a result, it starts switching between tasks on your mental to-do list. Thus, make notes, write in a journal, or use Notion — anything that helps you to release unimportant things from your head. Ignore these memos until you’re done with the necessary work.


Time abundance may give you a false sense of productivity and take your attention in unnecessary, often irrelevant directions. Sense of urgency, on the other hand, motivates you to be more efficient — simply because you don’t have other options.

So instead of treating your time as an infinite commodity, start setting tight deadlines and become more intentional.

By making these tiny mindset shifts, you’ll positively impact your work performance — and consequently, your life.