Parkinson’s Law

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The Parkinson’s Law is the notion that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. It’s an adage. And it means that people work out their tasks of personal and professional life based on time available. Whatever size is your assignment, if you are given two week for it your will complete it in two weeks and if you are given two months for it, you will take two months for the same job. Time pressure forces people to complete tasks in the given time. If there is no pressure attached to a task then it continues forever to come to an end. Therefore, the more time a person gets to complete a job, the more time he takes to complete it. And, the person gets used to mixing personal and professional work in all the time he gets.  The moment he is assigned more work he starts cribbing about the workload. A task that has to be finished within an hour isn’t perceived important, but a task that’s to be finished in 2 months will become a mental outrage.

Complexity also rises in relation to the allocated time, the more time allocated, the better the perceived quality of the task – well this is what our mind perceives. While people crib about being overburdened with workloads, some people silently complete their own as well as other’s work also. Parkinson Law describes how people keep postponing (try to procrastinate) work till last moment. If only we embrace deadlines and checks, we can do a clear-cut job. It’s always better to force ourselves to work against the clock. When we are given a task without a deadline, it’s always better to set the deadline for self and hold on to it. And, as managers we must learn to always state a deadline while delegating a task, the shorter the deadline – better the outcome.

People always work better under time pressure. They are more focused when a task needs to be completed in constrained time since we all keep procrastinating assignments till the last moment. We vacillate with the time doing some stupidest things. But, if we like a job, we try to complete it in record time.

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We need to free our company of the bad effects of Parkinson’s Law. Get more production in order to pay more by reducing or eliminating loss-making and unnecessary tasks and their associated expenses. Hiring more people is seldom the solution to manage inventory, assembly, purchases, sales, accounts etc. Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This interesting statement was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the famous British historian and author, in 1955. It appeared as the opening sentence in an article for The Economist and later became the focus of one of his books, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.

Parkinson made observations on bureaucracy: he said that bureaucracy swells not because workload increases, but because bureaucrats have the capacity and resources that allow for bigger workload even if the workload does not in fact increase. People without any work find ways to increase the amount of imaginary work and therefore add to the size of their administration. Bureaucracy takes a beating because the wrong person fills the wrong role, the role exists only to minimize damage control, or the role swells unnecessarily simply because it can. How true!! We see it all Government departments, post offices, railways, government run hospitals and universities.

Parkinson also observed that organizations give disproportionate credence to trivial issues. One example he quotes is of a committee whose job was to approve plans for a nuclear power plant, spent the majority of its time with futile discussions on relatively trivial and insignificant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials should be used for the staff bike-shed, while neglecting the most important matter of proposed design of the nuclear power plant itself. We usually assume that those persons working on panels and committees it comprehend it. On the other hand, everyone involved get engaged in endless discussions on a trouble-free issues to show their personal contribution. No wonder, committees appointed by government waste precious time without much outcome.

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Let me tell you, Parkinson’s Law does not apply to only time management but it applies to everything in our life.

Our needs keep increasing and if we don’t keep a check on them, they add on. We crave for a big house, a big car, a big bank balance, more and more belongings and so on. When we buy a bigger home, a bigger bag, a bigger cupboard, bigger storage within a short time every nook and corner gets stacked. The bigger the available space, the more junk it can hold. So when people buy bigger houses they need to fill it with most unrequited items, and most of the times people buy big houses even when they don’t need them.  The more money we earn the more money we spend. Only people who want to become rich understand that they need to save money. They break the law and resist the urge of spending unnecessarily. When we start earning more, our needs start expanding so that we spend all of the money that is available. Similarly, our appetite increases when too much food is served on the plate. We end up eating up everything that’s on the plate. Rarely do people resist overeating. The end result of the application of Parkinson’s Law is that we don’t have enough time to do everything that we need to get done; we don’t have any money left over at the end of the month; we are surrounded by clutter; and, since we are constantly overeating, we put on more and more weight which makes us unwell. By the time we realize this fact, it becomes a vicious circle of our life.

It is therefore important to break Parkinson’s Law by setting time, money, storage, and portion limits. If we do this successfully it radically improves our life. We must learn to avoid cluttering our life; we must learn to give away things including books and clothes to de-clutter our home.

Set limits: decide what tasks you need to get done, and then set a limit on the amount of time that is available to perform each task. Set a limit on the amount of money that you have available for spending. Set a limit on how much storage space you really require and have available. Set a limit on the size of your food consumption. Excessive clutter is often a cause of stress and can affect every facet of our life. Clutter can distract you, pull you down, and in general it invites chaos into your life. Break Parkinson’s Law as far as possible.

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