Parkinson’s Law – Do You Know How it Will Impact Your Life?
In 1958, C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a satirical book describing human behaviour. The book was entitled, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress and is the source of the well known maxim: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” In a very short period of time, Parkinson’s Law has been incorporated into mainstream thinking.
One everyday example given in his book is that of two people writing a postcard. An elderly, retired person might spend hours choosing the right card, take great pains to craft a personal message and then walk to the post office to mail it. On the other hand, a busy entrepreneur is more apt to pick the first card he spots, jot a quick note and mail it on the way home. Same work. Different time allocation.
A more alarming example emerged from Parkinson’s study of the civil service, where he found a propensity to continue hiring more and more people to achieve the same results. What happened to the “free” time now available to those who were responsible for the results in the first place? Parkinson was surprised to discover they were just as busy as they had been before the addition of layers of assistants. The end result of all of their business was the same economic output as they had achieved before the hiring binge, but they found ways to expand the work and remain “busy.” Emails between the various layers of employees exploded. Of course, this internal correspondence had to be checked for proper spelling and grammar. And someone had to manage the escalating staff. In fact, in the specific case he describes in his book, seven officials ended up doing the same amount of work as one had done before. In short, “Officials make work for each other.”
Today, there are many variations on this principle. For example, Parkinson’s Law of Data states, “Data expands to fill the space available for its storage.” (Have you checked your hard drive lately?) Parkinson’s Law of Bandwidth Absorption claims, “Network traffic expands to fill the available bandwidth.” And so on.
So what started as a humorous commentary by Parkinson has become an axiom in many parts of our lives. However, there is good news in all of this. And that is the inverse of Parkinson’s Law: “Work contracts to fill the time available for its completion.”
If you were leaving your office to go on holiday I would guess – no, I would wager – that the piles of paper stacked up on your desk will get handled or you will get all of your work done before heading out the door. (I know my desk will be clean before I leave for holiday, even though it’s a sorry sight at this moment!)
So, why don’t we have this sense of urgency throughout the year? It is simply because there is more time available. What we don’t get done during the day, we can finish that evening. The week’s surplus of work can be taken home for the weekend. Thus we slip into the habit of procrastination; the arch enemy of an organised, balanced life.
Make a practice of focusing on your high value tasks until they are complete. Adhere to Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage. Free up every minute possible by doing those things that yield the highest return on your efforts, delegating everything that someone else can do at least 75% as well as you at a lower hourly rate than you earn – or want to earn – and eliminating the rest. Ensure you stay focused and maintain a sense of urgency in all that you do while at work. In this way, you will defy Parkinson’s Law and lay the foundation for achieving one of the goals of doubling your time off.
The purpose of this post is to help focus your attention on those areas of your life upon which we will work during our time together. This act of observing – focusing upon – these critical life elements ensures maximum return on your investment of time and energy.
What one action will you commit to take as a result of this blog post?
How will you follow through on this commitment?
If so, what benefit(s) do you intend to realize as a result of this action?
If you do not follow through, what consequences will you encounter and what will that ultimately land up costing you?
When will you complete this action?
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