Other Laws

Parkinson’s Law and Time Management

The Parkinson’s Law reminds us of the importance of establishing, respecting, and observing strict deadlines, even if they are self-imposed, so that we can make the most of all our resources and achieve our goals more effectively.

Parkinson's Law

This law was developed by Cyril Northcote Parkinson on 1957, presenting it in a book of that name in which it added many of its vast experiences in the British Military Service with respect to the optimization of resources in situation. Thus, the Law is summarized in the phrase “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

His analysis, carried out under the scientific method, was derived from certain observations that the author noticed as the circumstances around him changed. For example, he noted that while the British Empire was losing its overall importance, the number of employees in the Colonial Office increased fairly, raising the bureaucracy’s rate of employment to an annual rate of up to 7%, without considering that the real need was to create new jobs, for not complying with the one of the offices. The more “space” there is, the fewer actions are concentrated.

The Parkinson’s Law is based on three grounds:

  • The work expands to fill the time available for its realization,
  • Expenditures increase to cover income,
  • The time spent on any agenda item is inversely proportional to its importance.

Examples in daily life

This law can be explained through a very easy concept to understand, and to replicate in different areas of our life: when the clock rushes to its end, it increases the pressure that we have to complete the task in hand, and activate a level of care and focus that we seemed to have had so far.

For example, you have 30 minutes to solve the exam that your teacher gave you. You spend the first 10 minutes distracted; doing a general reading, responding only to what is almost ‘too’ easy. You spend the next 10 minutes thinking about the answers, watching the clock, daydreaming, and it’s only in those last 10 minutes that suddenly you realize that time is about to end, and that’s when you really put your attention on the exam, even until you complete it.

How to apply?

This Law is applied by the pressure we feel as time runs out, and it uses this pressure in our favor. That is, when you have a slope, knowing our predisposition to increase the pressure (focus, attention, effort) as we approach the goal will be what helps us to work in a more optimized way to achieve the goal, using the least amount resources and as much focus as possible.

And how do we achieve it? Well, it’s simple: we created a deadline. If the slope does not have it, creating is going to put things in order for its compliance. And if the slope has an extensive deadline, we simply auto-impose a closer one, to raise our pressure and activate our engines.

Why close the deadline? When a project has a long time to be realized, our attention, concern and focus on it is likely to be so extensive that it fails to be efficient. For example: if you have 3 weeks to write that report, you probably think about it a couple of hours a day, write a little more, and even erase the writing to modify it. Instead, bring in the deadline and replace these long 3 weeks for only 3 days, will put all your resources into action with the pressure to reach the goal successfully.

But you know it’s a lie…

At first it can be difficult for you to get into this action, because you don’t know that the deadline has been self-imposed, or that it is actually shorter than the current one. That is: you “play” your goal is in 3 days, but your mind knows it is in 3 weeks.

There are two paths to take here: the first is to dismiss any rational thinking, and pretend to live on yourself imposed deadline until you feel it as natural. And the second road, the most risky and least recommended, is to make that date real. In our example, it would be a matter of applying the Parkinson’s Law starting to work just in the last of those three weeks, to activate our pressure and to do the tasks with effort (although surely with desperation).