You have a limited amount of time. You need to spend it wisely. The last thing that you can afford is for tasks to take more time than they should. To do this, you will have to actively focus on avoiding Parkinson’s Law.

What you will learn…

  1. What Parkinson’s Law is
  2. Why it forces us to waste time
  3. What to do about it

Parkinson’s Law

The adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

There is another aspect of Parkinson’s Law, but this is the one that matters for this discussion.

Why do we follow Parkinson’s Law?

This is actually not a law, but an observation. We have all fallen prey to it. We had a task to complete. We had a good deal of time to get it done. Yet we lose focus, procrastinated, stop, start, refocus, expand, contract, and only with the pressure of the due date do we actually finish it.

There are two primary reasons for this. The first has to do with scope. We often expand or change the scope along the way. The second is related to focus. We often have something else come up that takes our time.

Use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage.

Given that Parkinson’s Law happens, we need to use it to our advantage. To do this, you really have to know yourself. Think about what motivates or demotivates you. Understand how you handle stress. And apply this to the recommendations below.

  1. Carefully manage your time.
    • Scheduling aggressive targets for the time required for the tasks that you need to complete.
    • Make sure that you do not fully allocate your time as there will need to be breaks and some number of required interruptions. My rule of thumb is that you should never schedule yourself more than 70% (as a manager, you should never let your team be assigned more than 70%).
    • Schedule time for things like email, texting, and other items that can create interruptions. Do NOT allow yourself to be interrupted while working on a task!
    • Use an alarm or countdown timer to monitor the time that you are spending. If the task is long, set time frames for interim milestones.
    • Learn and adjust your time estimates regularly. Do not let yourself fall behind. risks to schedules and the related pressure that comes with them do not typically happen at the end – they happen along the way.
  2. Focus on the Pareto Principle (80 / 20 rule).
    • There will always be too much to do. Be brutal in prioritizing.
    • 80% of the value of what you do comes from 20% of your tasks.
    • And of course do the other things that are required (by your boss, HR, etc.). But feel free to question them to ensure that they are necessary AND leverage Parkinson’s Law – for these as well.
  3. Order your tasks to create urgency.
    • Start your tasks closer to when they are due than when they are assigned. Create a sense of urgency in order to optimize your time.

If you do all of this – you will have leveraged Parkinson’s Law to your advantage!

Categories: Time


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