Parkinson’s Law – Are You The One Letting Your Work Grow?

Parkinson's Law - Are You The One Letting Your Work Grow?

For all of you who were intrigued by our blog about dreamling, and even more so by the Parkinson ’s Law mentioned in that text – this one is for you. We’ll try to explain it and provide you with some basic guidelines on how to take advantage of an opportunity to better control your time. Are you ready to change your perspective?

Yes? Good, let’s start.

First of all, let’s analyze the definition Wikipedia offers on Parkinson’s Law:

Parkinson’s Law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

Hmmm, still a bit unclear.

Allow us to break it down and simplify it, so you get the picture of what is going on here.

It is all about…

How to Do More Stuff by Giving Yourself less Time!

The first one to think of that and articulate it in his  work was Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the famous British historian and author. It was 1955 when he published a somewhat humorous essay in The Economist, where he first mentioned a rule that will soon enough become what we now know as a Parkinson’s Law. This essay was reprinted in the book Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress in 1958, becoming the focus of his research.

And how did he get to the conclusion about the relationship between time and tasks? Well, it became quiet obvious to him as he spent decades working in the British Civil Service – in other words, one could say that Parkinson was an experienced swimmer in the ocean of bureaucracy. Plus, he was additionally inspired by the ideal gas law, whereby a gas expands to fit the volume allotted, where the state of an amount of gas is determined by its pressure, volume, and temperature.

As the bureaucracy itself (with all its Monty Python’s like bizarreness) is an after-effect of our modern-day culture, it became pretty normal to believe that working harder is somehow better than working smarter. And faster.

Crazy, right?

So, what Parkinson did, was just applying to everything the mathematical equation describing the rate at which bureaucracies expand over time. As it turned out, he was on to something!

A great part of his original essay was dedicated to a summary of supposedly scientific observations supporting the law/equation. For example, he noted that the number of employees at the Colonial Office while the British Empire declined – increased in time. How illogical is that, right?

Parkinson explained this phenomenon using two “forces”, as he called it:

  1. An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
  2. Officials make work for each other.

He then concluded that the number of employees was going up by the 5–7% per year, regardless of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.

20th-Century Revelation

The emperor was naked, and someone had to speak up. People around the globe went crazy over this theory. Parkinson’s Law was translated into many languages. Soviets were leading the way in its implementation and in 1986, Alessandro Natta (politician and secretary of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) from 1984 to 1988) used it to criticize the swelling bureaucracy in Italy. Even Mikhail Gorbachev once said that “Parkinson’s law works everywhere.”

What is the secret of this so popular 20th-century revelation?

The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource (If the price is zero).

An extension is often added: The reverse is not true.

Allow us to simplify and generalize one more time:

The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.

And now, let’s put it in our service. Starting with imminent deadlines.

Having in mind this law, our task’s importance and complexity will most probably get ballooned when crossing paths with the time appointed for it.

Here is an example. We’ll go back to school, in order to present its prevalence in all its glory.

Let’s say you have one week to get the school project done. As time goes by, from the psychological point of view, the task involving this project will increase in complexity and the whole thing will just become more discouraging. One can say that the task will grow out the expected deadline, right before your eyes.

With it, the stress and tension will increase as well, and that will cause a task to become even more complicated. It’s a vicious cycle, as you might get it by now.

What To Do?

So, the first thing to do in order to avoid this chain reaction is to assign the right amount of time to a task. That is crucial and you should stick to the (realistic) time frame no matter what. By doing so, we gain back more time (or, better said: we do not take an expensive time-loan) and the task will reduce in complexity to its natural state.

It’s not easy and not many people are able to do it at first. It is because, as human beings, we tend to give tasks more time than it actually needs. Sometimes we do it because we simply want some ‘leg room’ or a buffer, but most of the time it is because we have an inflated idea of how long the task takes to complete.

Before testing this principle, we can’t be fully aware of how quickly some tasks can be completed.

This test or experiment (as you like it) is to show us that the deadlines we set for ourselves are not unbreakable. Nor are those set by the client or a boss. It can do wonders in helping you determine how accurate your time projections are. And that is all it takes.

Plus, you can use some of the small tricks to get to the point where you can consider yourself a real-life time calculator.

Don’t use your computer charger. Do the work before the battery ends. Limit quotidian tasks like responding to email to 30 minutes a day. Stick to it. Stop working late and after hours. Just stop. Go get a drink. Or even better, go on a date. Know what “done” means in terms of the task. This is especially dedicated to those who suffer a perfectionism. Know what comes next and start preparing yourself for it.

It’s quite simple actually. The thing is to use restrictions to create more freedom. It sounds strange but if you challenged yourself daily – you will get there. By setting almost impossible, yet still believable deadlines before yourself, you are training your mind to be able to fight Parkinson’s Law any time given.

We would expand further on this subject, but we are getting dangerously close to the deadline. Actually, to half of a deadline, as we in Teodesk are all keen on learning how to beat the clock.

And anyone who keeps learning stays young, Henry Ford said. He should know, so we follow!

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