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Lemme grab your attention by asking some question- Do you waste a lot of time? Do you wish to get more done in less time? Do you want to live a disciplined life? (Enough)
If your answer is yes to any of the above questions, Parkinson’s law can help you. In this article, I would share with you- what is Parkinson’s law, examples of Parkinson’s law, and how to use this law in our day-to-day life. So, let’s begin from the beginning-
What is Parkinson’s law?
In 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British naval historian and author, wrote an essay for The Economist. Accidently the first sentence of the essay became a famous law named after him- the Parkinson’s law. This was republished in the book Parkinson’s law: The Pursuit of Progress in 1958, translated into many languages and became popular in public administration and management. That one sentence had this huge impact. So, what is Parkinson’s law?
Parkinson’s law states that- “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
In other words, the time taken to complete the work is directly proportional to the time available to complete it. This is also experimentally proven that when a person is given more time than what is required, then he/she tends to waste it. We all have experienced this somewhere in our life, whether it is preparation for exams, completing school homework, working on a creative project, or doing office work.
When you have more time, you will procrastinate, research, scroll social media, browse the internet, and do anything which is not supposed to be done. The more time you have, the more time the work will take. If the work has to be done tomorrow, it will be done tomorrow; if the work has to be done in six months, it will be done in six months.
If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.
-Stock–Sanford corollary to Parkinson’s law
A graph can make this more clear…
This graph illustrates Parkinson’s law very well. In the x-axis, it’s the time required for the completion of a work. And in the y-axis, it is the efforts you put into completing it; the more the effort, the higher the performance. Now the dotted line shows the maximum effort or peak performance which is desirable.
So, you need to find this time which forces us to work in peak performance. If the time is too much compared to this time, the performance will decrease. Similarly, if the time is too less; it would also decrease the performance.
Examples of Parkinson’s law
Parkinson’s law works everywhere, so there is no shortage of examples. When students have three days to prepare for an exam, they would spend the first two days doing very inadequate preparation or not at all; the actual preparation happens on the last day.
When an office worker has some project to complete within a day, he/she will take the whole day to complete it, although it could have been completed within 3-4 hours if worked with concentration. When an author has to write a book, he/she will work in such a way to complete the piece within the set time.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson gives this example in his article-
Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.
How to use Parkinson’s law in life?
In the above sections, we saw what is Parkinson’s law and its examples. Parkinson’s law can help you be highly effective in time management, increase your productivity and help you to live a disciplined life. Hence, we should know how to implement it in our routines. In this section, I would share four easy steps for implementing Parkinson’s law in our day-to-day life. Parkinson’s law is mainly used in management, but we mustn’t forget that it works everywhere. So here are the four easy steps-
1. Calculate the time required
This is the critical step to use Parkinson’s law. You need to identify the time required to finish the work without diminishing the quality. The time needs to be reasonable. It can’t be too short; for example, if writing a book requires five months, then calculating one month for completing the book is too little time. It may be completed in 1 month, but the quality of that book will be diminished.
Similarly, time calculated can’t be too long. In the above example, one year may be too long. Figuring the exact reasonable time may not be possible the first time; hence we have step 4 to help us with this.
2. Set deadlines
The pressure created by a deadline can be the most powerful factor to help you complete your work within time. I have experienced this in my college- when I was given an assignment, I would complete it just before the deadline because I was pressurized to do that. Even if I have five days for the assignment to submit, I will spend the first four days doing everything but not the assignment.
And on the fifth day, I would gather all my energy, be highly concentrated, focused only on the goal (I would even ignore an opportunity to earn a million dollars), and then complete before the deadline anyway. If I had been given only one day, I would have completed it in one day. This is the power of the deadline.
Deadlines aren’t bad. They help you organize your time. They help you set priorities. They make you get going when you might not feel like it.
This step needs no explanation. You have to work with all your effort, concentration, and willpower. Work and try to finish it within the deadline. Take care that you spend most of your time in deep work.
Deep work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
-Cal Newport, Deep Work
4. Revise the calculation
Now that you have finished the work, analyze how much time the work took. If you couldn’t finish the work within the deadline, it means the time calculated was less, and so you may accordingly increase the time for the work the next time you do it. If, however, you finished the work way before time, you may decrease the time and make a somewhat stricter deadline the next time you do the same work. Very simple, no rocket science.
So, let’s sum up everything I said in this video; Parkinson’s law says, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This law can help you be more productive at work. For this, you have to set reasonable deadlines, not too short and not too long, and you will have to finish the work within the said time. That’s all about Parkinson’s law.
I hope it helped you. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel, where I post about fiction and non-fiction books. And thanks for reading.