What is the Parkinson's Law?

Parkinson’s Law is a principle that states that the time required to perform a task tends to extend to all the time available to perform it.

  • Its name comes from the man who invented it: Cyril Parkinson.

 

This Principle highlights our tendency to inefficiency when we have more time than we really need.

Parkinson's Law in Time Management

This Law has many implications for Business Management and Personal Productivity.

 

What implications?

1. Having more time to do a task does not necessarily mean that you will do it better.

  • In fact your chances of wasting that extra time are high.

 

2. It is important to analyze which tasks have more time allocated than they really need.

  • Some tasks may be already “wasting” time.

 

3. It is better to start assigning little time to new tasks.

  • And increase it if necessary.

 

4. It is better to evaluate the work by objectives than by time invested.

  • Time is an imprecise variable to assess productivity.

 

The Parkinson’s law reminds us that time is a metric that cannot be trusted.

 

Let’s see a first example so that you better understand it:

Parkinson's Law example

 

This is a real example that happened to us some years ago.

 

For one company we were analyzing (we didn’t know whether to invest in it or not) we had an external accountant.

  • He prepared the annual and quarterly balance sheets.

 

He was always on time, but if we needed some document at 04:00 p.m, he had it ready at 03:59 p.m.

 

A certain day, we realized there were some mistakes on a company’s balance sheet from the previous year.

  • It was not his fault; the fault was the former accountant of the company.

 

We needed to redo the entire balance in 3 days since we had an important meeting with a Bank.

  • We had to show them the financial evolution of the company.

 

The news was: He could do it in 2 days.

  • When he had weeks to do practically the same task, he needed all the time he had available.

 

We are not suggesting that he was lazy.

  • Probably he wanted to polish the document so much, that he was over-spending time unnecessarily.

Our intention is not that you distrust everyone.

  • In fact, you shouldn’t.

 

We want to warn you about human nature.

  • We all do this.

 

This is why this principle is so important.

Why is Parkinson's Law important?

Parkinson’s Law is a very important principle to always keep in mind because:

  • It can help Organize, Optimize and Manage Business tasks.
  • It can help you be more efficient in your daily routines.

 

The most interesting aspect of this principle is that it is based on pure psychology.

  • It is not an artificially created Tool.

 

It describes how we behave and warns us about it.

This is what we like the most about this “Law”:

  • It is something you never forget once you know it.

 

But … how can you take advantage of it?

How to take advantage of Parkinson's Law

There are many ways you can use this principle to your advantage.

 

We suggest you these:

  • Reduce the time allotted to your tasks.
    • Both in the tasks you manage and in your personal tasks.

 

  • Find the perfect proportion of time to finish.
    • By progressively reducing the allotted time.

 

  • Always work goal-oriented.
    • Instead of time-based.

 

  • Be ambitious with your deadlines.
    • The task is likely to take less time than expected.

 

  • Don’t be too much of a perfectionist if it takes a lot more time.
    • When you don’t have time to spare.

 

Now, let’s see some examples:

Parkinson's Law examples

We’ll now share some examples with you.

  • We have chosen different Business sectors in which Parkinson’s law plays an important role.

 

Let’s begin:

Design Companies - Parkinson's Law example

 

Design-related tasks are highly time-consuming.

Why?

 

Because artistic tasks are difficult to be considered accomplished.

  • You can always add something, improve other thing.

 

Our Advice

 

In addition to the advice we have given you previously we recommend:

  • Get your customers involved as soon as possible.

 

Generally speaking, a high percentage of the time spent in artistic tasks is useless.

  • There are exceptions, of course.

 

Artists tend to “get lost in their designs”.

  • They want everything to be perfect and perfection does not exist.

 

If your client orients your work early, you won’t need to present dozens of alternatives.

  • Stick to what they want.

Construction - Parkinson's Law example

 

If you’ve ever worked on a construction project, you know that it sometimes takes the same amount of time to build a small 3-story building as a 5-story one.

  • Again, this example can be very nuanced.

 

Why is this happening?

Because there are many providers and “players” involved and each of them has different deadlines.

  • Usually, the one who needs the most time is the one who sets the pace.

 

Our advice

 

In these type of companies, where there are deadlines to meet, it is difficult not to have people with more time than they need.

  • Efficiency is very difficult in the Construction sector.

 

Sometimes it is even possible to have “everyone” in plenty of time, but deadlines are impossible to meet.

  • Why? Because of how people coordinate with each other.

 

That is why we’ll suggest:

  • Focus on having a very fluid coordination between the different parties involved.

Public Administration - Parkinson's Law example

 

Well… we couldn’t talk about time inefficiencies without talking about the Public bureaucracy.

  • We’re sorry, but this phenomenon occurs everywhere, no matter where you live.

 

But why does this happen?

 

Because officials do not usually have deadlines for their tasks.

  • And, as Parkinson’s law has taught us, this pushes them towards inefficiency.

 

It is not their fault as professionals, it is a problem caused by how the system is designed.

 

Our advice

 

For jobs with fuzzy or non-existent deadlines, the best you can do is reward productivity.

  • A good reward: Forget  about giving away a mug.

 

This is recommended for Jobs that involve tasks performed by individual professionals.

  • Where it is difficult to adopt strict deadlines and it is very easy to track how much someone has done.

Banks - Parkinson's Law example

 

Banks and Public Administration are almost the same.

  • Large entities with almost no deadlines.

 

We know first-hand how frustrating it is to wait 5 months for a response from the bank.

 

Our Advice

 

If you have to manage situations or professionals that work in big companies (similar to banks) you should Focus on:

  • Introduce ambitious deadlines for big and complex tasks.
  • Track productivity for “small tasks”, weekly.

 

In Public Administration, this is a bit difficult, but in big companies, you have no problem tracking people’s productivity.

  • In the Public Administration it is difficult due to the Unions and the working conditions.

Summarizing

Parkinson’s Law states that the time required to perform a task tends to extend to all the time available.

  • Summing it up: When we have more time than we really need, we are inefficient.

 

Parkinson’s Law has different implications, among which we want to highlight:

  1. Having more time to do a task does not necessarily mean that you will do it better.
  2. It is important to analyze which tasks have more time allocated than they really need.
  3. It is better to start assigning little time to new tasksand increase it if necessary.
  4. It is better to evaluate the work by objectives than by time invested.

 

How to take advantage of Parkinson’s law?

  • Reduce the time allotted to your tasks.
  • Find the perfect proportion of time to finish.
  • Always work goal-oriented.
  • Be ambitious with your deadlines.
  • Don’t be too much of a perfectionist if it takes a lot more time.

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