The purpose of time management and getting more done in less time is to enable you to spend more face time with the people you care about and doing the things that give you the greatest amount of joy in life. Brian Tracy
I’m revisiting something today that I’ve mentioned once or twice in the past because I have realized that it had perhaps considerably more productivity value than I had previously conceded.
Parkinson’s Law was a statement made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian and author, in 1955— first appearing as the opening line in an article for The Economist and later becoming the focus of one of Parkinson’s books, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.
The law is simply that work expands and contracts to fill the time allotted for its completion.
WORK EXPANDS AND CONTRACTS TO FILL THE TIME ALLOTTED FOR ITS COMPLETION
…or that the more time you allocate in advance to a certain task, the longer it will take you to complete it, even if it could have been completed in less time. So, if you give yourself a week to complete a two-hour task, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting so as to fill that week. It may not even fill the extra time with more work, but just stress and tension about having to get it done and people will often end up unnecessarily stretching out the task, procrastinating perhaps or doing unnecessarily detailed or refined work so that it will take them the whole week to complete it.
A student will often take as long to finish an assignment as they’re given, so that regardless if they’re given a week, a month, or a whole semester to complete an assignment, they will likely finish it right before the deadline.
When you decide to work on a project, whether it’s a business idea that you want to develop or a script that you want to write, you will often end up taking significantly longer to get started and to finish those things than you need, especially in situations where you don’t have a concrete deadline for finishing the project.
WORK EXPANDS AND CONTRACTS TO FILL THE TIME ALLOTTED FOR ITS COMPLETION
Parkinson’s law has been observed in a number of scientific studies, which show that when people are given extra time to complete a task, they will generally take advantage of that time, even if they don’t really need, and even it doesn’t lead to better performance on the task. The effect sometimes also extends to subsequent attempts to perform the same task. Meaning that if someone is given extra time to perform a task the first time around, they will also often take longer than necessary to complete the task again in the future, even if you remove the explicit instructions giving them extra time.
The research suggests that people often think in terms of “how much time do I have to complete it?”, rather than in terms of “how much time do I need to complete it?”. And it’s this mindset that can cause people to waste time needlessly, and work in a relatively inefficient manner.
Most notably for us perhaps is that people often struggle with procrastination, which can cause them to delay working on tasks until right before the deadline regardless of how much time they have to complete them, since they can’t bring themselves to get started earlier.
I gave myself a week to complete the last three episodes last week and I took that full week. The truth is though, that although I stressed and tired and thought about and fretted over it, I dragged my feet, and in actuality competed all three shows only on the Friday. I suppose that’s what’s brought me to recording this today, that realization that Parkinson’s Law is in effect. You can judge for yourself whether the last three shows were below par or not.
I struggle with the allotment of time for tasks and projects all the time and I need to start monitoring how long these tasks take. With that knowledge I would be better able to estimate how long things take. I’m assessing that right now in regard to how long the shorter shows take BTW. With that knowledge of how long your tasks can take you will be better able to utilize Parkinson’s law.
An article in lifehack.org says that “When implementing Parkinson’s Law, to look for those little time-fillers, like email and feed reading, that you might usually think take ten or twenty (or even, God forbid, thirty!) minutes. These are the “cockroaches” of the productivity world—little pests that do nothing but make your life a pain in the backside, pains that you can’t seem to get rid of no matter how much you run around the house with a shoe or bug spray.” It says that “Instead of doing the leisurely 20–30-minute morning email check, give yourself five minutes. If you’re up for a challenge, go one better and give yourself two minutes.” If Parkinson’s law is in effect, you will still get it done.
I can sense the perfectionists amongst you reeling at the though of all this but I ask you to remember the lesson of my perfectionism episode – to accept good enough as a suitable alternative to the time consuming and unachievable perfect.
Parkinson’s Law is simply an observation, but it works because you often give tasks longer than they really need, or sometimes because you want a bit of a time buffer Usually you just have an inflated idea of how long a task takes to complete but once you get better at judging the time your tasks take then Parkinson’s law will become much more valuable.
You can experiment with Parkinson’s Law and squashing your deadlines down to the bare minimum in many areas of your life. Just be conscious of the line between “bare minimum” and “not enough time”—what you’re aiming for is a job well done in less time, not a disaster that’s going to lose you employment or clients.
Call to Action
Today’s call to action is to take a task you usually take an hour to complete, say checking you emails or checking your social media, and setting yourself a time limit to deal with it. If it usually takes you an hour, take 10 minutes, if it usually takes you 30 minutes take 4.
Because WORK EXPANDS AND CONTRACTS TO FILL THE TIME ALLOTTED FOR ITS COMPLETION you will till get it done, but you will have freed up valuable time and energy to put into more important matters instead.
On next weeks show I’ll be revisiting a very popular episode from last season with 3 more motivational messages from Abo Demi Demi. Tune in to find out more, and if you have a moment, please go onto your podcast app and leave a review. Reviews are a big help in boosting the show in the rankings and in attracting new listeners so I’d be very grateful for it.
I’ll end now with the words of Abraham Lincoln who said Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day.
This episode is sponsored by Ian O’neill
Season 8 Executive Producer: David Richard Thompson
-IPF- Support Parkour Teachers Teaching Globally… a fundraiser (Including 12 video clips of some of our Peace Through Parkour Ambassador teachers and others)
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