Parkinson’s Law

When driving change it pays to have friends who can carry most of the load for you some times.

I offer big thanks to my dear friend Rogue Polymath for posting a quick, concise description of Parkinson’s Law.

Ever wonder to yourself that if only you had more time, more space, or more money, etc – you’d be better off?  That’s not likely, according to Parkinson’s Law.

First stated by Cyril Parkinson in 1955 as, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion,”  it describes the human nature to procrastinate, goof off, and be otherwise unproductive in the face of little to no consequences.  It can be generalized however as:

The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.

This could apply to the amount of data in a storage media, the amount of clothes in your closet, or even the amount of time you spent on Facebook.

So how can you minimize the effects of Parkinson’s Law?  Acknowledging the problem is always the first step.  You could use Critical Chain Project Management.  Or you could just start slowly with using a timer to keep yourself in check.

Got other examples of Parkinson’s Law in action or ways to fight it?

My favorite example of Parkinson’s Law is the curse of mandatory overtime.  When you work overtime regularly you begin to build the overtime into your week.  Your work expands to fill the new time allowed and your boss starts to wonder why your productivity per hour worked is dropping.

Please, if you’re suffering under the curse of mandatory overtime, refer your boss to Parkinson’s Law.

Every boss should understand, once they have knowledge of Parkinson’s Law, that there is a difference between asking someone to work ten hours of overtime this week and asking that same person to produce more of what they produce (be that widgets or reports).

Asking for overtime guarantees the boss the hours of charging and he or she may get an increase in products produced (though usually Parkinson’s Law in action sucks up any gains).

Asking for higher production may not get the boss all the added production he or she wants, but it will likely get the boss a higher return of products produces per hour of overtime invested.

Plus, the super bonus to a boss who understands the curse of Parkinson’s Law: changing their request from hours of overtime to a request for an increase in productivity usually costs a whopping total of zero dollars (and likely will save the company money through reduced overtime and sustained employee morale).

Keep driving change and driving out Parkinson’s Law.

There’s too much to do in this world to allow your current work to fill up all your time.

You’re better than that!

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4 thoughts on “Parkinson’s Law

  • April 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm
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    Lehman’s corralary: Your outgo automaticaly expands to %105 of available income, if your income shrinks, outgo remains at the higher figure.

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  • April 2, 2010 at 11:42 am
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    Excellent post April! One of my biggest pet peeves is when organizations try to manage something like time… your example above about mandatory overtime makes absolutely no sense.

    How about we set expectations with our employees and let them tell us if they need to work overtime to get it done.

    Set the expectations and guidelines and let the employees manage themselves.

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