Parkinson’s law started as an essay in the Economist. In that essay, Mr. Parkinson described his observation that the amount of administrators within a bureaucracy expands no matter the demand, and with that expansion came more work.
His essay starts with a somewhat humorous telling of an elderly lady and how it can take her a whole day to post a letter, while a busy man would be done in three minutes. The essay continues with mathematical formulas to prove his theory.
Parkinson’s law and personal productivity
Parkinson’s law can, and have several times, been applied to the area of personal productivity. When we set a number on how much time we need to spend on an activity we often fill that time with the activity no matter how long it would actually take to get it finished. This together with our inability to actually know how long a task should take (Hofstadter’s Law) can lead to a lot of wasted time.
So what would the cure be? As always there is no panacea. But to help we can try and think about our tasks in a different way.
I enjoy time blocking but I don’t block time for specific tasks. I block for types of tasks and I prioritize my task within that arena. So instead of saying that I will spend one hour writing a script for a specific YouTube video, I’ll say that I’m going to spend one hour writing. Maybe my goal for the day is to work on a script so I’ll start with that. But since I haven’t told my brain that what we’re working on is a script but rather just “writing” I’m done in forty minutes. I’ll then spend the next twenty minutes working on a new blog post or starting a draft of another script.
When I’m filming a video I don’t put that under “Filming” I put it under just “YouTube.” This means that instead of filling up an hour or two with re-takes or tweaks I get done. I can then spend the rest of the time planning my edits or exporting and fixing the audio.
How you need your blocks to look is depending on your life and schedule. Since I have two small children I usually get two two-hour blocks each day. Sometimes I get more, sometimes I get none. This is an area of your productivity where you can be a bit vaguer if you choose to go this sort of time-blocking route. Whether you plan your blocks on a weekly or a day-to-day basis a block shouldn’t be too specific. Don’t write down a two hour block of working on one specific thing in one specific project. Instead, write blocks of “writing” or “studying.” Some days I use the full two hours for one activity, usually writing or YouTube. Sometimes I have one hour of writing and one hour of reading.
Parkinson’s law says that every deadline will be met when and only when that deadline is upon us. This is because work expands to fill out the time we allot to it. To be more productive, try to focus on setting up a system of working on arenas of tasks rather than one specific task for a set period of time. This leads to getting done when you’re finished with your task rather than when the time is up. When you are done with the high-priority task you can fill up the rest of your block with lower-priority tasks within the same arena.