Parkinson’s Law of Time

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

 When you are planning your work do you allocate the appropriate amount of time for it?  If you over estimate the amount of time it will truly take you to complete a task then you may find that it takes that amount of time to complete it.  C Northcote Parkinson commented on this phenomenon in 1955 as part of a humorous essay he wrote for The Economist.  It gained popularity and became Parkinson’s Law as people found their observations matched his.  Why is this so true?

 Here are the two biggest reasons why I think this is so true:

  1.  Lack of Urgency:  if you allocate a week to complete something that will take a couple of hours to do then it is not urgent until the last day.  Then you are under the gun to get it done, so you buckle down and complete it.  All the time before that was filled with other activities, maybe planning how you would do it, gathering materials, worrying about getting it right, etc.  All low urgency actions.
  2. Perfectionism:  If you start something on Monday you know isn’t needed until Friday then you will leave it hanging, planning to come back and perfect it before you hand it over.  You take one more pass over it to ensure everything is just right.

 So to get out of this trap you need to set realistic deadlines on your tasks.  Assign the appropriate amount of time to get them done and schedule a time to do it.  Once you schedule that time, then leave the task until it’s time.  This will prevent you from fiddling with it before you need to work on it, you will not be worrying about it because you know when you will get it done.  Also, make sure you allow enough time to do it properly the first time and then you will not feel the need to hang on to it and go back to make sure it’s right. 

 Parkinson’s Law is often cited in the time management world because it’s a comment on human nature to find the path of least resistance.  Managing your time and your tasks actively and with clear focus on the actual nature of the things to be done will make you the exception to this law.

How do you defeat this law of human nature?

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