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Parkinson’s Law: Why We Work Better With 1 Tight Deadline

Jan 26, 2021 | Business & Life Advice

Parkinson’s Law Key Takeaway

Parkinson’s Law is simply an observation that we overall work better under tight deadlines and relevant time constraints because it prevents us from creating non-value added work.

“Work complicates to fill the available time.”

Parkinson’s Law in Video

The ‘Time Management and Productivity’ YouTube Channel illustrates the Parkinson’s Law with the following video:

The origin of Parkinson’s Law

In his essay in The Economist published in 1955, Cyril Parkinson described the natural tendency for officials to create more work for each other. A summary of purportedly scientific observations supporting Parkison’s Law makes a large part of the essay. One of them is the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office while the British Empire was declining. Parkinson showed that the British Empire had its most significant headcount when it was folded into the Foreign Office due to a lack of colonies to administer. He explained this growth using two forces: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals,” and (2) “Officials create work for each other.”

What is Parkinson’s Law formula?

Parkinson’s Law – Historical Form

Parkinson noted in his 1955 essay:

“The number employed in a bureaucracy rose by 5–7% per year irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”

Parkinson’s Law – Current Form

The current form of the Law is the following mathematical equation describing the rate at which bureaucracies expand over time:

x = (2k^m + L) / n

  • x – number of new employees to be hired annually
  • k – number of employees who want to be promoted by hiring new employees
  • m – number of working hours per person for the preparation of internal memoranda (micropolitics)
  • L – difference: age at hiring − age at retirement
  • n – number of administrative files actually completed

    Parkinson’s Law – Generalized Form

    “The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource (If the price is zero).”

    This generalization of Parkison’s Law has come to resemble what some economists regard as the ‘Law of demand‘ or ‘ ‘induced demand‘– namely, the lower the price of a service or commodity, the greater the quantity demanded.

      What does Parkinson’s Law mean in terms of Time Management?

      The essence of Parkinson’s Law is that most people are more productive when they are slightly under pressure. With a reasonable deadline, the worker has a low but appropriate stress level that forces him to focus on yielding the best outcome within the allotted time. The trade-off between speed and quality is therefore optimal, and the individual performing the task reaches an optimal execution. 

      How is Parkinson’s Law used or challenged nowadays?

      Some productivity aficionados suggest combining the Pareto Principle with the Parkinson’s Law as a method to hack growth: “How to hack your personal growth” from eagertomakeit.com. On the other hand, others suggest that adopting a Parkinson’s Law  mindset as a time-management approach is not effective as it sounds: “How a time scarcity mindset sabotage your focus“.

      How to use Parkinson’s Law with the Pareto Principle?

      The Pareto Law, more commonly known as the Pareto Principle, works perfectly in tandem with Parkinson’s Law: execute only essential tasks to shorten the time spent (Pareto Law) and shorten work time to limit tasks to the essential ones (Parkinson’s Law). As a general productivity rule, it is a good practice to highlight the most important drivers of an outcome by doing a Pareto Analysis.  The most important drivers will yield directly or indirectly the most essentials tasks required. A Pareto Analysis is usually done via spreadsheets: see our tutorials on how to do a Pareto Analysis in Excel, a Pareto Chart in Excel, or in Google Sheets. Parkinson’s Law philosophy and the Pareto Principle can be used advantageously in task prioritization frameworks such as the Eisenhower Prioritization Process.

        How to use Parkinson’s Law with Carlson’s Law?

        Carlson’s Law works incredibly well with Parkinson’s Law: shortening work time to limit tasks to the essential ones (Parkinson’s Law) reduces task-interruptions, hence increasing overall effectiveness (Carlson’s Law).

          How to use Parkinson’s Law with Eisenhower’s Urgent-Important Matrix Method?

          Shortening work time to limit tasks to the essential ones is the essence of Parkinson’s Law. It particularly makes sense when using Eisenhower’s Task Prioritization Method: not important tasks should be handled only if they become urgent to avoid wasting precious resources on these non-value-added tasks. On the contrary, important and urgent tasks should get full attention resource-wise, and important but non-urgent ones should be taken care of on a regular basis via a task schedule.The essence of the Eisenhower method is not to get distracted by tasks having a limited impact to have the resources entirely dedicated to the most critical tasks.

            When is Parkinson’s Law not applicable?

            Setting short deadlines to focus on the most important things is a key takeaway of Parkinson’s Law. When it comes to optimal time management method, content producers or any person who needs to produce something that involves creativity may not entirely agree with that statement.

            The best trade-off between speed (delivery timing) and quality for creative work seems to happen when the work is split into batches of highly-focus work sessions (Carlson’s Law: no distractions), all contained within a global short time-frame (Parkinson’s Law: no necessary work). The breaks between the work sessions avoid creativity depletion; when the worker is back to work, he/she usually has a more precise road-map on how he/she is going to go further his/her creative task. Overall, this time management technique works well for creative jobs and is an example of when Parkinson’s Law is not strictly applicable.

            Conclusion and Suggestions

            When planning project tasks, set reasonably time-bounded but achievable deadlines. That’s the A, R, and T of SMART goals. Make regular points to follow up on the progress, and prevent unnecessary new work to be created along the project’s track if there is more time available than initially planned. That’s the essence of Parkinson’s Law.

            For more Business & Life articles with a productivity mindset approach, visit ParetoAnalysis.tools/Blog.

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