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Work expands to fill the time available for its completion

“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”- you probably heard this proverb from the famous Parkinson’s Law. This is an interesting statement made by Parkinson, the famous British historian and author in 1955.  Parkinson was highly qualified to make such a statement, having worked for the British Civil Service, looking at how the industry ticks.

An organization by itself is a product of our culture, which is thanks to the restricted belied that working a lot more is better than working smarter and faster. Parkinson’s Law “
Work expands to fill the time available for its completion” means if you are given a 2 hour task within a week, then the task will increase in difficulty and become a lot more challenging so as to fill that week.

It may not fill the extra time with work, but will cause stress and tension about getting it done. By distributing the right amount of time to the task, we gain a lot more time and the assigned task will be reduced in complexity to its natural state.

There was an answer to Parkinson’s Law suggesting that if it were a perfect observation, one could assign a time limit of a about a minute to the task and the it would be simple to complete within a minute. The law is an observation and not magic.

It works as people give tasks a lot longer than needed, sometimes it is due to some leg room or buffer but very often they have an approximate idea as to how long the task will take to complete. People are very often not aware of how fast certain tasks can be completed unit they test the principle.

Most employees go against the unwritten rule of work harder, not smarter, know that contrary to the greater return on investment, it is not always appreciated.  It is linked to the idea that the longer certain things take to complete, the better quality it should inherently be. The rise of telecommuted employment has changed it for those early adopters but only since employers have no idea what has to be done with their spare time.

Let us look at a couple of ways of how you can apply the Parkinson’s law to your life, get a to do list checked off fast and spend less time working on filling in time to look busy. It is appropriate whether you work at home or at an office, since work harder, not smarter is a cultural idea that several people fall prey to even when no one is supervising their work.

Running against time

Make a list of all the things you have to do and divide them accordingly.  Then give yourself half the time to complete every task. You have to know that restricting the time limit as important. Treat like a deadline. A portion of reversing what we have ingrained is to see the deadlines as unbreakable just like the deadlines given by your boss or clients.

Use the human instinctual longing for competition to make it work for you.   You have to win against time, work to beat it as if it were your competition, without any shortcuts and creating low quality output.  It is helpful if you are having problems taking your own set deadline seriously.

In the initial stages, it will be an exercise in deciding how accurate you’re set times for tasks are. Most will be spot on and most could be inflated.  Those that are spot on could be the ones that you may not be able to bear the clock with when you have the time allotment, so the experiment takes times.  Don’t go back to the time allotted initially as there could be an optimum period in the middle.

If you work on a computer, a digital timer will be useful when you start doing it. It could help save time as a time will let you look at it to see how much longer you have.


Destroy the Cockroaches of the Productivity world

Look at the little time fillers, like email and feed reading, they could take a couple of minutes. These are the so called cockroaches of the productivity world- little insects that do nothing but make your life a living hell that you can’t seem to get rid of no matter how many times you run around the house with  a shoe or bug spray.

Instead of checking a 20-30 minute email check, you should give yourself 5 minutes. If you can challenge yourself further then give yourself at least 2 minutes. Don’t give these tasks a lot of attention until you have finished whatever there was on your do list for the day, at which point you can read your emails, social networking and feed reading to your heart’s content.

There will be assignments where a small percentage of what you will do is important the rest will be useless.  It will force you to tend to the tasks that are important- it will give you the need to read to improve in your work and emails that are very important. Experiment with how far you can take it. Make your criteria for what makes an email essential, strict and punishments harsh. It means using the delete button, which doesn’t mean using violence against your colleagues.

You can play around with the Parkinson’s Law and squash all the deadlines down to the basic minimum in several areas of your life.


Nupur Luthra