Have you ever heard of Parkinson’s law? Every time I have a deadline, I think about it.
It’s one of the thousands of time management tools that are supposed to help us get more done in less time and increase our productivity. In other words, Parkinson’s law says that work expands to fill the available time.
For example, if a professor gives a project deadline, we usually begin working on it seriously a week or two before the deadline and stay up late at night with a lot of stress. The interesting thing is that our brain’s ability to analyze and learn, as well as our body’s function, will increase significantly during these remaining hours, resulting in quick results, but not necessarily the best quality results.
What is Parkinson’s Law?
Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” It is sometimes applied to the growth of bureaucracy in an organization but can be applicable to all forms of work.Parkinson, Cyril Northcote (19 November 1955). “Parkinson’s Law”. The Economist. London.
Parkinson’s Law is the old adage that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. Cyril Northcote Parkinson invented the word in the opening line of an essay in “The Economist” in 1955.
Parkinson uses the example of an old lady whose only job for the day is to send a postcard to her niece. a task that would take a busy person around three minutes to do. However, the woman spends an hour hunting for the card, another half hour looking for her glasses, 90 minutes writing the card, and 20 minutes deciding whether or not to bring an umbrella with her on her walk to the mailbox… Because she has nothing better to do, the simple task consumes her entire day.
We plan based on how much time we have, and when the deadline is, if something needs to be done next week, we will do it next week. If it has to be done tomorrow, it will be done tomorrow. We begin to make choices and tradeoffs in order to finish the assignment before the deadline.
How can we make Parkinson’s work for us?
- Decide on three important tasks for the day. Remember that while you’re making a list of three activities, choose the three that have the highest priority and will have the greatest impact on your ultimate goal.
- Calculate the time required to complete these three tasks based on previous experience and expected workload.
- Divide the time allotted in the second phase for each task by two. For example, instead of devoting 12 hours to completing a task, devote only 6 hours to completing it.
- Start doing the task and, at the end of the day, evaluate if the timing was enough or unrealistic, how much of each task was done, and how much of our productivity was reached. This analysis will assist us in making plans for tomorrow.
When we set limitations for ourselves, our thoughts will adjust to the situation. Our minds do tasks that would normally take 12 hours in 6 hours by paying less attention to notifications or spending less time on social media.
According to Eldar Shafir, a Princeton professor, and Scarcity co-author, “When you have a deadline it’s like a storm ahead of you or having a truck around the corner. It’s menacing and it’s approaching, so you focus heavily on the task.” And “If you’re focusing so heavily on a big project you may at the same time forget to pick up your kid from school, your mom’s birthday, to feed the dog, etc. That may be the price you pay for the success you’re achieving with your focus.”
So, if Parkinson’s hypothetical old lady had set a deadline for herself, she would have completed writing letters faster. But, because she had nothing else to do for the rest of the day, she completed it just in time.
Are there any areas of your life that are open-ended, without any sort of limitation? Leave your comment below.