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11th May, 2020
Parkinson’s Law is an old adage which states that ‘work will expand to fill the time available’, and has been backed by such comments as ‘if you leave it until the last minute, it only takes a minute’ and ‘if it’s due in a year, it’ll take one’.
Parkinson’s Law suggests that, the more time we have to complete a task, the less efficient we become in its completion; preferring to take a low effort over a long time approach.
You’ve probably never had to worry about this; our usually busy lives can leave us all a bit time poor. However, if we assume you’re getting your 8 hours shut eye, those of us lucky enough to work from home right now have almost doubled our available work time to a locked down 16 hours by bringing the office in to our homes – perhaps even more so if you’re usually a part time worker!
Has that halved your effort?
Caught yourself saying ‘I’ll finish that later’ as you hit ‘continue watching’ on Netflix one more time?
Losing hours to small research projects as you fall down the rabbit hole?
Finding your WPM has halved since your desk came home?
Welcome to Parkinson’s Law!
Don’t panic! We’ve listed 6 ways to fight the law…and win!
Often, it’s the huge tasks with deadlines long in the future that fall victim to Parkinson’s law. So, it stands to reason that the easiest way to fight back is to break those large projects in to bitesize tasks and impose your own, short term, deadlines on each.
Keep the timescales realistic, but tight enough to create a little urgency and get yourself moving!
Got a little perfectionist living inside of you? Usually squashed by time constraints and the distractions of a lively office, this little monster feeds on time – and will swallow a lot of it!
Before you start working on a task get a clear and specific picture of what ‘done’ looks like. Will the bare minimum do? Or does this part really need some detail? If you’re researching, list the questions you need answered, if you’re writing perhaps a target word count.
Whatever you’re doing, having a clear picture of ‘done’ will prevent that perfectionist sneaking in and convincing you to waste time overworking a task.
Parkinson’s Law often kicks in when we’ve just got too much on; days become jumbled to-do lists of triggered tasks rarely completed. To prevent this, we need to focus on one thing at a time, with as few distractions as possible.
Once you’ve broken down your tasks, list them, choose one, set an amount of focus time, remove all distractions, and go for it! You don’t need to complete it in this time, just understand that, for that window, this task is your sole focus.
It would be silly to ignore the huge blurring of boundaries that occurred when we bought work in to our homes, this is fresh for many of us, and we may be working on makeshift desks in TV rooms or kitchens – places swimming in homely distractions.
Create some physical boundaries for your work, set up a desk where possible, turn off the TV, put away your books or the paraphernalia of your lockdown hobbies, and try to get the kids to leave you alone for realistic time periods.
It’s about achieving balance, so set a time budget for work activities, work out how that fits with your home commitments and then slot in the tasks to fill it.
Stop adding safety buffers when you allocate time for your tasks! If you inflate your estimates, you’ll see Parkinson’s Law sneaking in to steal that extra time away from you!
Set yourself challenging, but realistic deadlines for each task. The kind you cuss under your breath when your boss sets, but grin from ear to ear when you realise you’ve hit them!
Take that new time budget and shrink it! 10% less? 20% if you’re feeling brave! Put yourself under some pressure to find new efficient ways of achieving the same work – get creative!
Once complete, you can use that saved time to get started on the next task and spend the evening marvelling at how much you achieved that day!
Day to day life rarely gives us incentives to finish early. Finished the project quickly? Great! Sure the boss has more work for you to fly through! Or perhaps the next deadline will be shorter!
This is a huge contributor to Parkinson’s Law. Sometimes, it’s not even fear of the boss that looms over us; we use extended deadlines as security blankets when the next task seems daunting – preferring to stay within the safety of the job we know.
It’s all human nature. Which means we can beat it with the same!
Us humans will do (almost) anything for a prize! So, if you finish early, give yourself a small reward – watch your favourite show, head out for a walk in the sunshine, or have a game of ball with the dog. Whatever you fancy, you deserve it!
The key is to associate this reward with the completion, not just the time spent. So I’m afraid, you only get your prize if you achieved the challenge to the desired level of ‘done’.
Most of the time, the brain effort required for planning projects and tasks is greater than that required to actually carry them out. For this reason, we’ll often hold on to a task that we do know, because we don’t know what comes next…and it seems like hard work to find out!
If you’ve already broken your projects down in to bitesize chunks, you’re halfway there. All you need to do now is budget some time to putting these into some sort of logical order, and then displaying it somewhere so you’ll always know what’s next.
Nearing the end of a project and unsure about what comes next? Get in touch with the boss and see what they’ve got planned! They’ll be impressed with your proactivity and you’ll gain the push you need to leap this final hurdle!
Once you’ve got that new project, do the same again! Break it down, order the items and go!
That’s it! Six top tips for beating Parkinson’s Law, that definitely took all of the time allotted to complete!
Have you got any other tips and tricks for beating this little demon? We’d love to hear from you!