How Parkinson’s Law can help you be more effective

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. You might know this proverb as “Parkinson’s Law”. This statement was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, famous British historian and author. Parkinson had seen first-hand how bureaucracy ticks.

What is Parkinson’s Law?

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion, means that if you give yourself two weeks for a half hour task, the task will grow (psychologically) in complexity and become more difficult, this in order to fill the two weeks. Even worse, it might not just fill the extra time with work, but sometimes just stress and tension about having to get it done. So, assign the right amount of time to a given task, reduce its complexity and gain back valuable time.

The theory of Parkinson’s law is that an individual within a large administrative organisation will reach a point in their career when things will be “too much”. Instead of leaving the job, or share the position with someone else, subordinates are hired. And subordinates lead to more subordinate. And over time, you have a department to manage. While the quantity of real work has not actually increased that much, if at all.

So, what do people do if the work has not increased that much? They send each other pointless emails. The most annoying of which are the cc’d ones.

So why do people fall for Parkinson’s Law, why do they inflate tasks? Some people give themselves some extra buffer or leg room. But most of the time, this buffer is not needed. Instead, this buffer makes the task more complex and inflated than it truly is.
Inherent to bureaucracy is the mentality of “work harder, not smarter”. Despite a better return on investment for the company, work smarter, not harder, is not always appreciated. Why? Well, we have the idea that if something takes long to complete, the quality will be better as well.

Let’s check out how Parkinson’s Law can help you to become more effective.

How to use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage

So, while keeping Parkinson’s Law in mind, do you have completed any tasks in the past week that could have been completed way earlier? Perhaps even in half of the time? Ask yourself why you have given yourself the extra time. Was that extra time truly necessary?

And which tasks on your to-do list are not that important? Perhaps you have already spent a large amount of time on a specific project, but is that project truly that important? Where can you cut to make room for the truly important tasks?

This step-by-step guide will help you use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage:

  • Is this specific task truly that important? (in other words, does it generate revenue, direct or indirect, for my business or company I work for?)
  • How much time is needed to complete the tasks?
  • Is there any way to use even less time?
  • How much time do I need for a MVP (Minimum Viable Product)? Or, in other words, what is the minimum required result I need or want to achieve?

By using Parkinson’s Law to your advantage you will yield a better return on investment for your time.

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