There exists a theory, developed by Cyril Parkinson, a British historian and author, that applies to productivity in and outside of the workplace. During his time in the British Civil Service, Parkinson observed a trend in production that the larger the bureaucratic system, the less productivity was achieved.
Parkinson initially introduced this concept in a satirical article in The Economist in 1955. Over the next 2 years, Parkinson delved deeper into his theory, supporting it with studies and tests that he produced into a best-selling book - Parkinson’s Law - in 1957.
As an active or aspiring womenpreneur, efficiency means everything to your business goals. The bases to Parkinson’s Law could keep you working late nights and making a number of sacrifices in your personal life, or it could allow you to get more done in less time.
What is Parkinson’s Law?
Parkinson’s Law can be defined as:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
What this means is that when given a task and a deadline, a person is likely to take the entirety of the time allotted to perform the task, regardless of its breadth and complexity.
In Parkinson’s studies, he found two factors that lead to this resolution:
- People are motivated by deadlines and will frequently overlook a task’s completion until the deadline is within sight.
- People relate deadlines for a task with the complexity of the task. Parkinson found that if a person was only given a short amount of time to complete a task, the task would be perceived as easy and the brain would quickly develop a method for completion, while a task with a longer deadline would be seen as more challenging and the brain would work more quizzically to resolve the problem.
How does Parkinson’s Law already impact your life?
Without realizing it, you’ve likely been affected by Parkinson’s Law. The calm and confidence that comes from a task that’s not due until next week or month, followed by the worry and adrenaline rush when you just start the task the day before it’s due to be completed. Three common examples include:
- Staying up all night to write your term paper the night before it’s due rather than spreading out the work over the course of the month that it was assigned.
- Putting together the itinerary for a meeting 5 minutes before it’s scheduled instead of the day before.
- Knowing that you’re going to have overnight guests to your home and waiting to clean your house until the night before they’re set to arrive.
Using Parkinson’s Law to improve your productivity
By understanding the mindset that validates Parkinson’s Law, you can learn to combat long deadlines by breaking down projects and restricting your working hours to simulate micro-deadlines and boost your workplace efficiency. Here are some tips and tactics to allow Parkinson’s Law to motivate higher efficiency rather than represent a law of procrastination.
Reverse engineering - When you have a major project to complete, the best place to start is the end. More specifically is the trail that leads to the desired finished product. By working backwards from finish to start, you create a to-do list and a timeframe with which you need to work. This process breaks down larger, more overwhelming projects into manageable tasks and creates a process that eliminates uncertainty and creates accountability.
Time blocking - Once you have a to-do list and timeframe set forth, time blocking creates mini-deadlines that ensure that you are working towards the larger goal in an efficient and productive way. Rather than telling yourself that you want to create a social calendar for next quarter by mid-month, actually block out 2 hours of each day to focus solely on this task. Instead of frantically slapdashing together 3 months worth of social posts into the weekend before the quarter turns over after a 60 hour work week, you could fit this broad and important project into regular working hours in less time, with more quality and time to review it if needed.
Hyper focused work - If you take the same - I can’t talk right now, I can’t check that email, I can’t scroll through my feeds - approach that you adopt when you have a major deadline looming, you would find that you can achieve that same productivity without all of the stress. By blocking out time and distractions from each individual task, larger projects quickly become simple assignments.
Hard stops - Similar to time blocking, hard stops create daily deadlines for your work to fit in. A hard stop is setting a realistic, but motivational hard stop to your workday where you don’t bring work home with you or let it seep into your social or family lives. For you this could mean waking up early and stopping at noon, or fitting all of your work between 9-5. The key is to create the precedent that work stops when work stops and not to allow yourself to adopt a - I can finish it later - mentality.
Productivity over perception - Whether you’re actively working for a company or can reflect upon your office days, you know the bureaucratic mindset that Parkinson challenges with his law. You’re taught from day one that you should pay your dues, burn the midnight oil and work hard. This working hard rather than working smart mentality may be fine for employees looking to collect a paycheck, but for entrepreneurs, time is money. If you’re not planning or producing for your business, you’re business isn’t going to profit.
Time is precious for entrepreneurs. If you aren’t being extremely productive while at work, you’re giving up quality family time and other important errands that provide a necessary life balance. Focus on the productivity tips that allow you to work smarter and not harder.
Cutting the red tape - If you continue to reflect upon your days working for larger corporations, you’ll likely remember the chain of command and its impact on decision making and overall productivity. How much time was spent in meetings simply to give “higher ups” a status update on deadlines and day-to-day production? By keeping your start-up lean and purposeful, you allow the experts on your team to do their jobs without wasting time and energy to justify their actions or provide status updates to less integral coworkers.
Parkinson’s Law was one of the founding principles behind the Launch Planner. You’ll find that each page heeds the findings of Parkinson and creates many micro-successes to turn the daunting endeavor of launching a business or a new campaign into tackleable tasks.