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Do you know you can do more things in a day than what you had planned? Sounds interesting, right? Here Parkinson’s Law comes into play.
We usually plan to do our work based on the available time instead of how quickly we can do it. Parkinson’s Law shows how we extend work to fill the allotted time, which results in ineffective use of time. If we avoid doing this, we can free up more time to do the things that matter to us most.
In this article, you’ll learn about Parkinson’s Law and how you can incorporate this Law into your time management system and double your productivity.
What is Parkinson’s Law?
“…work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion “ – Northcote Parkinson made this statement in a satirical essay written for The Economist in 1955. Later, in 1958, he clarified the idea in his book – Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson was a British naval historian and author. He introduced this Law based on his observation and experience in the British Civil Service and the growth of bureaucracy. In his service, he witnessed that people were busy throughout the day, but few things were accomplished at the end of the day.
In his essay, he included an example of an elderly lady whose only task in a day is to send a postcard. The lady spends the entire day finding the postcard, searching for spectacles, looking for the address, writing the card, and so forth until she fills her day. A busy person can complete the whole process within three minutes.
Although the example may sound extreme, we all face this situation on a smaller scale in our life. If you get one week to complete a two-hour task, you will take the whole week to complete it. Either by overcomplicating it or procrastinating on the job.
Read the original article here: Parkinson’s Law | The Economist
What is Parkinson’s Law example?
We have already learned about an example of an elderly lady from Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s experience. We can relate the law to our daily activities and workplace. Here are a few examples in various contexts:
- Student syndrome: This is when people do things in the eleventh hour. Students often procrastinate in their studies and then cram before an exam. This is also a typical scenario in the workplace, where employees delay doing things until the deadline gets closer.
- In the workplace: If you look around, you can see that many construction projects are taking a long time to complete because of not having a clear timeline. Similarly, when an organization sets an annual goal for its employees, the employees tend to give increased effort when the annual review time comes closer.
One more example we can relate. If you get one month to prepare a proposal, you will consider it a less prioritized task. And You will leave it until right before the deadline.
- In the creative field: Parkinson’s Law example can be seen in creative persons or perfectionists’ work. If you are a designer and get extended time to complete a task, you will not feel like the project is perfect to deliver until the due date reaches. You will continue to work for its improvement to fill the time allotted.
- At home: In our household activities, we can take the example of cooking. When you have enough time to cook, you will spend more time in chopping, washing, and cooking by doing them singly. On the other hand, if a guest is supposed to come within one hour, you will cook quickly by cutting vegetables and frying fish simultaneously.
Parkinson’s Law and time management
Parkinson’s Law sheds light on the primary barrier to efficient time management. It shows how we are wasting our time by considering how much time we have to do a task instead of how much time we actually need to do it. This mindset results in inefficient workflow and less accomplishment.
When you get extended time for a task, you are prone to extending the work to fill your time. And remain engaged in that task instead of moving to another one or relaxing. Besides, an extended deadline results in procrastination and perfectionism. These are considered poor time management symptoms.
Since our mind remains occupied with a particular task, we fail to give proper attention to other tasks. Conversely, if you complete work quickly, you will have extra time to unwind or move on to the next task.
Now you have got an idea of what Parkinson’s Law is and how it works. Understanding the law, however, is only half the battle. It is more important to know how to beat Parkinson’s Law effect. In the following section, you will learn ways to avoid last-minute crises, complete tasks on time, and use time productively.
How do you overcome Parkinson’s Law?
The idea of Parkinson’s Law is that work expands to fill the time available to finish it. That means you take more time to do a task than it actually needs. As a result, you remain occupied with the task for a long time and waste your time.
Unfortunately, nobody is unsusceptible to Parkinson’s Law. We can see its impact everywhere, regardless of industries and job roles. Even you may fall victim to it occasionally in spite of being aware of it. However, with the right tips and techniques, you can beat the impact of the Law.
A simple way to overcome Parkinson’s Law is to cut your estimated project timeline in half. This will force you to remain focused on the task, and avoid distraction and procrastination. You will do things quickly because of a sense of urgency.
In the book, The 12 Week Year Brian Moran and Michael Lennington encourage having a compressed plan that could be executed in 12-week cycles instead of 12 months. This enables people to minimize non-essential tasks. Because of the short timeframe, they remain committed and avoid excuses to complete the tasks in the allotted time.
Get a brief summary of this book here. 8 Best Time Management Books Ranked Top on Amazon
By setting a short but realistic deadline, you can avoid the Parkinson’s Law effect. Consequently, you will not unnecessarily stretch out the task. You will be more productive and use time properly.
How can you use Parkinson’s Law for better time management?
The knowledge of Parkinson’s Law will help you to work smartly and let you delivered work on time. To get started with it, list your tasks, prioritize them and then divide them based on the time each task usually takes. Finally, allot half time for each task to be complete.
Here are the steps to apply Parkinson’s Law in your daily life to master time management and double your productivity.
- Track your time: To set a deadline for your tasks, first, you need to know how much time each task takes to do. You can use a time tracking app. It will show you how much time you are spending on each activity. Aside from giving an idea about the time length for each task, it will let you know about the activities you do and spend time in a day. Thus, you will be able to understand if you are spending more time on unnecessary tasks or not. And how productive you are in a day.
Here are five time-tracking apps to consider. Select anyone from here and get started with the free version.
- Plan your work strategically: Once you get an idea of the time required for each task, use this data in the future to schedule tasks and set a timer for them. For example, if a presentation takes you four hours to complete, set four Pomodoro sessions of 25 minutes for it. You may find that 2 hours of focused work will do wonders to get it done.
Plan your work in advance and strategically based on your goal. When you have a solid plan, you are less likely to procrastinate. Instead, you will diligently work to execute your plan.
However, your plan should reflect the following things:
- A SMART goal,
- A to-do list with prioritization,
- Timeline to complete the tasks
- Set self-imposed but realistic deadlines: Deadline setting is crucial to combat Parkinson’s Law. It will force you to work faster although yourself. However, some people do not regret it when they fail to meet a deadline. If you are one of them, find an accountability partner who will guard your activities and help you stay on track.
Another problem people face with Parkinson’s Law is its tight deadline. When the deadlines are ridiculously tight, people fail to meet deadlines frequently. And it seems that the timeline is unachievable for them. This results in disappointment and frustration. Hence, set a realistic deadline.
- Use time management technique: The use of time management technique is an excellent way to beat Parkinson’s Law problems. Here are three methods discussed as these are considered excellent tools to guard you against wasting time.
- Pareto Principle: It is also known as the 80/20 rule, where you are suggested to focus on 20 percent high-impact tasks that will give you 80 percent results. You can apply Parkinson’s Law with the Pareto Principle by setting a time limit for essential to-dos. By figuring out high-impact tasks, you are actually following the Pareto Principle. On the other hand, when you set time limits for them, you are following Parkinson’s Law. In this way, you can align Parkinson’s Law with the 80/20 rule and do your high-value tasks in less time.
- Pomodoro Technique: Another effective time management method. It enables you to work with proper concentration for 25 minutes and get 5-minute breaks then. How can you align this technique with Parkinson’s Law? As the Law forces you to allot limited time for a task, the Pomodoro technique helps you work with appropriate focus in the limited time. You can avoid burnout by taking frequent breaks.
- Timeboxing: An ideal time management technique to beat Parkinson’s Law as it involves the idea of time constraints. In Timeboxing, you have to allocate a specific time length for a task and complete it within the time limit. It is about planning and scheduling your tasks before starting them. Consequently, you become careful about it and be serious about its completion.
5. Challenge yourself: Train your brain to work faster without compromising the quality of work. For instance, if you are writing an article, your speed will not increase unless you challenge yourself to write more words at a specific time. When you set a goal to write 700 words within an hour, you will try hard to meet the goal. You can gradually increase the word count until you reach the desired goal.
It may seem discomfiting initially, but your brain will adapt to the new speed as you continue. And finally, the faster pace will become your second nature. By working faster, you can reduce the impact of Parkinson’s Law and increase your productivity.
Well, Parkinson’s Law is simply an observation of Cyril Northcote Parkinson. But, people indeed spend more time doing a task than they actually need for it. This is because they do not have a clear idea about their capability. Unless they test this observation, they do not realize that some tasks can be finished quickly.
The idea of Parkinson’s Law helps people to make better use of time and amplify their productivity. When you overcome this law, you will become a master of your time, avoid stretching work to fill the time, and get control over your time.