Parkinson’s law and Time Management
What’s Parkinson’s law?
Wikipedia sums up Parkinson’s law as
the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
We fill the time allotted to a project
We intuitively know this. You find a way to fill the time you give a project. So stop giving generous amounts of your precious time to projects and tasks, especially ones you don’t enjoy.
One of the most common complaints about the modern workplace is the length of meetings. They’re long, boring, with no sense of purpose.
Solution — Schedule shorter meetings. Cut the time in half, or a third. The shortened timeframe focuses everyone’s’ attention on the purpose of the meeting.
For example, at work, I sometimes schedule 27-minute, or even 17-minute meetings instead of reserving the traditional 30 or 60-minute blocks. In 90% of cases, the shorter meeting was long enough to cover what we needed.
Next time you have a term paper, report, or blog post to write, give yourself a short deadline e.g., I will complete the first draft by 3 pm today even though it’s not due for a week.
This is especially important for writing projects that have no deadlines e.g., your blog devoted to dancing Dachshunds or the novel you’ve thought about writing since 7th grade.
For example, this blog has no deadlines for completing new posts. Therefore, I’ve given myself an arbitrary goal of two new posts each week. And I’ve met my goal 4 of the last 5 weeks. (This post you’re reading is my 13th post!) Without the goal, I would have published far fewer posts.
Sometimes I feel frustrated or overwhelmed with a gnarly problem at work. (I’m a computer programmer.) I’ll feel uncertain of the next steps and procrastinate. Difficult problems morph into time-eating monsters, enticing me to avoid the problem at hand. They gobble up hours or days before they’re finished. If I’m not mindful of this, I’ll end up avoiding the problem for a day (or two!) by watching YouTube and scanning Reddit.
To combat this, I shut down all distractions and set a timer for 25 minutes. I resolve to focus on the problem until the timer dings. I tell myself, You don’t have to solve the problem right now; you just have to work on it for 25 minutes. Afterward, you can take a break and watch an SNL skit.
50% of the time, the timer dings and I keep working because the focused attention led to a breakthrough in the problem.
For tougher problems, I may go through multiple iterations of 25 minutes of focus followed by a break.
Following the 25-minute rule saves me time because I don’t waste an entire day avoiding a difficult problem.
We fill the time allotted for each task, therefore, only give each task the measure of time it needs. Schedule super short meetings, give yourself short timeframes for writing projects, and focus 25 minutes at a time for difficult problems.
Reclaim your time; reclaim your life.
Be well, my friend.