Parkinson's Law

It's time to learn how to be resourceful.

On the one hand, it helps you finish your work on time and make more time for things you enjoy.

On the other hand, mastering the use of resources qualifies you for more responsibilities.

Do you remember when you were the most productive?

One story that I hear over and over again is about students. Even though they have a week to finish their paper, they finish it the night before the deadline. 

Why is that?

The answer to this is Parkinson's Law. It probably is the second most useful efficiency hack. But it's far less popular than the 80/20 rule. You can use it as well to produce world-class output.

So what is Parkinson's Law? Tim Ferriss describes it in his best-selling book "The 4 Hour Work Week" as follows: "Parkinson's Law dictates that a task will swell in perceived importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials."

One great opportunity to observe Parkinson's Law is in meetings. For most groups, a 60-minute conference will not produce much more results than one with a duration of 30 minutes or 45 minutes. But they tend to be more lengthy. People may come late or get caught up in chit chat or aspects that are not relevant to the overall outcome. 

On the other hand, you can use Parkinson's Law to your advantage. Like Emily does.

Even though Emily just started her first entry position six months ago, she already is one of the most productive colleagues in her team.

What's her secret weapon? You guessed it right - Parkinson's Law.

When her supervisor assigns her a task, she makes sure she has a fixed timebox to complete it. Sometimes, the task has a natural deadline. In other cases, she estimates the time she'd need to complete it. Then she takes 85% of the length and takes it as a personal deadline. 

Now comes the most crucial part. Emily works as if the personal deadline was the ultimate deadline. This procedure helps her build up enough stress to put her in high gear right away. 

She started with this a few months ago, and regularly finishes her work within her personal deadline. And then she has 15% of her timebox left at her disposal.

When a task takes five days, she can free up almost half a day to spend it as she likes.

Emily came up with a lot of creative uses for this time already, including

  • Asking her supervisor for feedback and add some extras to her tasks,
  • Helping others with their challenges, either colleagues or supervisors,
  • Handling unexpected problems,
  • Socializing with colleagues outside her circle,
  • Doing some light-weight work to relax, and
  • Longer learning sessions.

So Emily built up a higher stress level for herself to work faster than expected. As a result, she has the chance to invest her extra time in her work results, her relationships, her network, her skills level, or simply her well-being. 

Now are you up for a challenge? Here it comes: 

Do it like Emily. Take a task or sub-task small enough that it starts and ends today. 

Make your own estimate and set your timebox accordingly. If you're unsure, ask a senior colleague for feedback.

Then commit yourself to complete the work in 85% of the original timebox. 

Put a short reminder event for your deadline on your calendar. 

Then work on it as focused as possible to meet your deadline. No matter if you finish on time or not, if your reminder pops up, stop working. 

If you made it: Congratulations! Spend the rest of your time as you want. How will you use the time you freed up?

If you're not quite there yet, make a short break anyway. Pat yourself on the back as well. What matters is you're on the right track and work better than yesterday. Take a few minutes and think about your process. Where did I lose time? What can I do better next time? Was my estimate realistic? 

Make yourself a reminder to revisit this for every task you have over the next days. If you stick to the process, you'll reach top-notch productivity very soon.

Good luck.