Let’s Break the Law

Ask someone how they’re doing, and odds are good that the reply you’ll get is “busy!”. Busy does not equal productive, just ask any hamster running on their exercise wheel. This article digs into Parkinson’s Law and the natural tendency for a task to be stretched to fill time. Also included in this article are 6 specific techniques designed to help you become more efficient in managing your day. Consider this spring cleaning for your schedule!

Hey there… how’s everything going? That, or some version of it, is a fairly common question that we likely get asked often. Whether it’s a casual chat with friends or while we wait for stragglers to show up for a Zoom meeting, the question serves double duty as a greeting and a proven conversation starter. While the opening line may be somewhat predictable, the response is even more consistent: Busy. Or perhaps, super busy. Maybe the person you ask even breaks out the big guns and hits you with both barrels: CRAZY busy. Boom…enough said. We get it because we too are crazy busy and can relate! It’s a universal language that we are all fluent in, but it’s definitely a language we can unlearn. (As a fun experiment over the next week, keep a running mental tab how many times you hear someone describe their life as some variation of busy.)

This is the part where some law-breaking can serve us well. In particular, this law is one you may not even know by name, but you’re almost sure to be familiar with its effects.

Parkinson’s Law states that the amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completion. The name comes from the British author, Cyril Parkinson, who studied and first wrote about it in 1955. Cyril was a bit of a subject matter expert, having worked in the British Civil Service bureaucracy. His experiences and research consistently showed that if an employee had a deadline of a week to do a task, then one way or another, it would not be completed any sooner than the maximum allotted time. That held true even if it was something that should only take a day to complete.

In Cyril’s workplace setting the logic is easy to understand. There was no incentive for an individual employee to finish their task sooner than required. Doing so would only result in more work being assigned while simultaneously decreasing popularity amongst coworkers who were stretching assignments as long as possible to minimize effort. That reasoning may have worked well in that particular setting, but it isn’t doing us any favors in our personal life.

Productivity and procrastination go hand-in-hand with Parkinson’s Law, and the 1st step in increasing the former while decreasing the latter is focusing your awareness of how this time creep is taking place in your own life. Curtailing that tendency to letting tasks stretch out to longer than they should give us a life management technique that rewards us with something we all tend to be chronically short on, which of course is time.