Parkinson’s Law comes from an Economist article published by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955. He was a British civil servant.
According to the said law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
Has this ever happened with you?
You were given 30 days to finish an assignment in college. You thought that you would start from day one and make small progress everyday. However, procrastination takes over.
You wake up in the last few days to figure out what to do. You start writing on the last day, are forced to stay up all night and somehow make sure that you submit the assignment just before the deadline. Then you swear that you will never keep things pending for the last moment again.
However, the cycle repeats itself, for the next project submission and even final exams.
I don’t know about you, college life has made all of us do this.
Apart from all the guilt and hand wringing about not being as productive as you could have been, did you notice something?
You are slow, unproductive and make your own work complicated when you have a lot of time.
When you have a month, you make grandiose plans.
When you have just a day left, you find the easiest way to do the most efficient job that will get you enough marks.
When you have less time, it forces you to focus harder, work harder, think harder and cut all flabs. It helps you to become highly efficient.
Why is it then we think that we can do a better job if we have longer deadlines?
Maybe we need shorter deadlines!
This is what Parkinson’s Law tells us. If we allocate a lot of time to a task, it is highly likely that we will make it complicated rather than simple, harder rather than easier, and more expensive rather than cheaper.
Will the work be done better? That is questionable.
All things remaining equal, giving a lot of time to a task may be counterproductive.
This is totally counter-intuitive. It probably goes against everything you have been told, learned or believed in your life.
But it is true, and there is a lot about productivity that we can learn from this principle.
If work contracts or expands itself depending on the kind of timeline you set, then will you set shorter or longer deadlines?
If you knew and believed that for sure, you will.
If you get over the fear learned from your environment that it is better to get more and more time for any and every task, you will.
The belief that you should necessarily spend a lot of time on something to do well in it is highly counterproductive.
Who will score more if X is studying 10 hour a day for an exam while B is studying 1 hour day?
It is not necessary that X always scores more.
Sitting down with a book for hours and actually managing to learn and retain knowledge is not the same thing.
When you give yourself a month to prepare for the end semester exam, and promise to yourself that you will study 6 hours a day for the next 30 days, you may be setting yourself up for failure because you are setting yourself a huge challenge that you are not prepared to handle!
Have you studied at the last moment and managed to score decently in the last few exams?
Maybe that works for you!
Maybe you should not think of studying through the year, but look at how to increase your efficiency, resourcefulness and alertness during those last minute preparations.
Maybe you should give yourself a small task to study for just 30 minutes every day instead of giving yourself a huge task of studying for 6 hours!
Maybe you should spend more time collecting notes and books and good study material that you will study during the last few days before the exam!
Maybe that is far more likely to work for you rather than trying to study round the year?
What happens when you begin to apply Parkinson’s Law to your life? What does it look like?
Even if you did not already know about Parkinson’s law, the effects of this law might seem oddly familiar to you.
Parkinson’s law is a product of typical human nature. It is a behavioural phenomenon that envelops all spheres of your life.
I used the example of exams above because it is very easy to relate to for almost every person. However, applying Parkinson’s law to your day to day work activities is perhaps much more productive.
- This is key for understanding effective delegation. if you understood Parkinson’s law perhaps you will not ask for longer deadlines from your boss.
- You can increase your overall productivity because you will spend less time procrastinating as you can organise your work as a series of short deadlines rather than one big deadline that is very far off.
- You will spend less time feeling guilty and in self doubt once you accept Parkinson’s law as a manifestation of normal human nature and not as a personal failure to act according to the highest standards of personal discipline.
- Less time spent indulging in guilt and self pity means more time spent doing productive work.
- Having deadlines alone does not work unless there is somebody to enforce the deadline. There has to be some consequences for missing a deadline for it to be a real deadline that has this effect we are describing.
- If you are self-employed or responsible for your own work and have no supervisor it may be a little difficult but even then you need to find concrete ways to hold yourself accountable for your short deadlines getting missed.
- You are forced to find the right kind of help. I have given myself a deadline of 31st Dec to develop a body of a fitness model and 6 pack abs. When I realised I have just 6 months to go, I just went and hired a great personal trainer. This ensures I work out 3 days a week without fail, and it has been a month. I can see some results already!
More about how to apply Parkinson’s Law in your life appropriately
In his book, The Personal MBA, Kaufman recommends using Parkinson’s Law as a counterfactual simulation question (also known as a “What if” question), asking what it would look like to complete a task in a very short amount of time.
What would it look like if I had to read this case law in 5 mins only? What if I had no more time? How will I go about skimming it so I get most of the relevant information without having to read all of the 127 pages?
What would it look like if I had only 30 minutes to draft this document? What template will I use? What products are there in the market which can help you to get readymade drafts that I can customize very quickly?
What would I have to do if I had only 30 minutes to prepare for this negotiation? How will I prepare myself? What is the bare minimum I want to know before I step into the meeting? Who can I call to get some quick information on how I can prepare to handle my opponent?
When you force yourself to think within a very limited timeframe, what is truly important, and what is most efficient, often becomes very evident.
For instance, most people assume that it takes weeks and weeks of work to publish an article or a blogpost. I give myself no more than 3-4 hours to write an article, including research. Worked good enough for me so far, considering I have managed to publish articles with top publications and thousands of blog posts in iPleaders blog that have been read millions of times!
And that was not possible when I thought it takes weeks to write articles. I actually did take weeks. I made everything more complicated than it had to be. I spent hours reading random material. Then when I sat down to write, I drew a blank! I had forgotten what I have been reading thinking I was researching!
Writing even a single article was a huge challenge.
But when I reduced the timeline as I began to work and had very little time, suddenly I was writing multiple blog posts and even guest articles for media houses.
Part of getting things done is to learn to cut the fluff that takes a lot of time and does not add enough value.
Can you ruthlessly cut back on fluff, give yourself really short deadlines and massively increase your productivity?
I would say it’s a very good possibility if you try.
With a few habits here and a little structuring there, you will be left with a mindblowing combination of increased productivity and focus. Let us check out some simple solutions that you can practise to boost your productivity keeping the Parkinson’s Law in mind:
- The pomodoro technique (google it);
- No multitasking;
- Using a calendar where you schedule tasks much in advance;
- Spending an hour planning your week every week;
- Hiring a productivity coach who helps you to set priorities;
- Prioritising important tasks while ignoring the ones that are inconsequential;
- Removing unworkabilities from life and workspace;
- Focusing on the real meaty part of the work that produces most of the results while ignoring the frills and fluff; and
- Hire coaches and trainers who can increase your results in a short time because they have the experience necessary to ensure you learn the skills you need very quickly.
What is the most important thing that you have to keep in mind about doing tasks with short deadlines?
Say you want to get a dream job in the next 3 months.
Maybe you want to double your law practice or land a big big client in the next 3 months.
Maybe you want to get that promotion or pay hike you have been waiting for.
What do you have to do to get what you want?
Use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage. Give yourself a short deadline and then figure out what you must do to get what you want.
Do you need new skills? Do you need new clients? Do you need to build new professional connections?
Surely you probably need to learn some new skills or even upgrade existing ones.
Once you have the necessary skills, you need to make sure that the right people know you have those skills as well.
You probably need to build a track record as well.
How are you doing these things?
Have you taken any action in the last 7 days to make these things happen?
Are you on track to achieve your goals?
If not what can you change right now?
Could you get a coach, trainer or an organisation like LawSikho in your corner? Will that make a difference?
What are the few things you can do to increase the odds in your favor?
Sharpen the axe
Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
More than how you strike the axe, what matters is the sharpness of it.
Your skills are your axe.
The quote reflects on the importance of honing your skills before commencing a work. Your skills are what will majorly determine the quality of your end result.
Therefore, by investing more time in reading extensively, learning new practical skills related to your area of work and improving the already existing skills with constant practice, your productivity considerably enhances, since you are ‘sharpening your axe’.
Dedicate time to read as well as learn new skills and notice the drastic improvements in your work patterns and results.
How can you sharpen your skills?
You should check out these courses at LawSikho:
- If you are interested in corporate governance, you should check out the diploma in Companies Act, Corporate Governance and SEBI Regulations;
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- The Cyber Law, Fintech Regulations and Technology Contracts is in dire need of good young talent if that is what ticks for you, go check out that course; and
- Every young lawyer should check out our diploma course in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution.
Check out our other executive courses which can be helpful:
- We have a certificate course in Advance Corporate Taxation;
- You can also check out this course for Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code;
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- LawSikho also teaches Competition Law, Practice and Enforcement in a course;
- Technology Contracts will be essential to every business in the future, you can check out that certificate course; and
- Knowledge about Banking & Finance Practice: Contracts, Disputes & Recovery is essential for every BigLaw layer, you can check that out too.
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