Parkinson’s law: discover what it is and how to fight it
Probably the day when the well-known professor, historian, writer and novelist, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, gave a speech about why the British Colonial Office had more and more employees, had no idea that he was actually going to solidify one of the most firm and well-known principles of time management at work.
His work, gathered in the book Parkinson’s Law, remains, to this day, a very popular reference within this field. Today we are going to find out what Parkinson’s Law is and how by being aware of it, can help you be more productive in your daily life and in your company.
Parkinson’s Law is part of a well-founded scientific study and it can be summarized in the following sentence, which is also the beginning of his famous essay: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
As we already know, the idea starts from a study of the British bureaucracy. Regarding this, Professor Parkinson found two factors:
1. “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals”
2. “Officials make work for each other.”
During his study, Parkinson noticed that as the British Empire became less important, the number of employees of the Colonial Office increased. Likewise, he observed that the number of employees in a bureaucratic apparatus increased by 5-7% per year, regardless of the amount of work that had to be done.
Also, along with these interesting observations, Parkinson’s Law is linked to the concept of procrastination. One of the main ideas that Parkinson’s Law conveys is that the more time that is available to complete a job, the more it will be delayed, the more the mind will drift and more problems will be raised.
Now that we have seen the first Parkinson’s Law, there are two other laws formulated by the professor, derived from his observations:
-” Expenditures rise to meet income “.
-“The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved”.
From a business or professional point of view, these quotes do not sound very optimistic, right? Well, they are not the only ones deduced by Mr Parkinson, who also proposed others like the Law of procrastination (the art of wasting time) or the Law of empty space, which becomes filled on its own.
Parkinson’s Law can be tested empirically. If for the same task, two different deadlines are given (a week and a month, for example), it is very likely that the completion, in both cases, will be pushed until the very last days of the deadline. If only a shorter period is established, the work will be resolved within that period.
Another example. When they give us two months to complete an essay or some type of homework while we are at school or the university and then we finish up that task in two days just before the deadline. Surely that same work could have been completed in the first days of the term, but our natural tendency is to postpone jobs that we do not want to do until we have no choice but to get down to work (procrastination).
However, getting to know Parkinson’s Law has its positive side. By being aware of it, we can solve the waste of time by structuring the work, setting deadlines and goals. If you know that setting long (or even indeterminate) deadlines can lead to an unnecessary waste of time, consider the possibility of starting to set shorter deadlines.
Some basic examples of how we can fight Parkinson’s First Law:
- Try to complete the most important tasks before twelve noon. In order to do this, you can wake up earlier than usual or wake up at the usual time, but work harder at the beginning of the morning. The important thing will be, in any case, to finish the tasks assigned before that hour.
- Make some deadlines shorter. Obviously you must continue to be demanding with the quality of your work, but surely you must notice that there are tasks that actually require much less time.
- Limit the time that is used for meetings. If you do not set a time limit, you will often lose too much time in nonsense. Setting a time for the end of the meeting will cause issues to be resolved faster and ideas to be proposed quickly.
- Divide large tasks into smaller “subtasks” and set strict time limits to meet them.
- Use time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique.
Within the field of business, Parkinson’s Law is specially related to project management, in which setting goals, and organising time and tasks are essential.
Being aware of Parkinson’s Law can help us make better use of time and be more productive. For this reason, the aphorism “restrictions can create freedom” comes from Parkinson’s Law. What does this mean? Although at first glance it may seem that this phrase is inconsistent, by taking a deeper analysis of it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Being strict with working time, setting goals and deadlines allow you to finish tasks on time. When finishing these tasks earlier, you get some benefits of freedom from it for example allowing a reduction or flexibility of working hours.
You can try this technique at home, give yourself one hour to perform a task that you would normally do in two hours and then see the results. Did it work for you? Did you find it more stressful? Let us know by commenting down here in the comment section.
Finally, remember that there are technological tools that can help you face the dreaded First Parkinson’s Law. Do you know Integria IMS? Integria IMS is a help desk that provides, among other features, a task management tool and a project management tool. If you want to know more about Integria IMS you can click on our website or discover more articles like these in our blog.
Alberto is one of the translators of Integria IMS. He is also a singer-songwriter and he also can play the guitar and the piano.