Parkinson’s law comes back to back with my previous article on The Pareto Principle. I believe that these two concepts consolidate each other and form a really powerful productivity combination. If you are not familiar with Parkinson’s Law, as I wasn’t till a few months ago, you might as well be a bit confused since you are probably thinking of situations involving trembling hands or other shaking body parts. Which is funny as well as inaccurate.
On the other, if you do are familiar with it, I hope this article will help you apply it to your everyday life and boost your productivity rates.
Definition & Background
Parkinson’s law actually tackles productivity in its core and it states that
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
To give you a bit of background, Cyril Northcote Parkinson made this observation while working for the British Civil Service in the mid-1950’s. In his famous essay for the Economist, he describes the process by which the civil service staff increases in numbers regardless of the amount of work to be completed. In simple terms, still apparent in today’s businesses, the delegation of a simple task produces more work even if the latter is just in the form of reviews and approvals.
Interestingly enough, Parkinson observed that during the years 1914 and 1928, the Admiralty officials increased in number by 78,45% while at the same period the Naval diminished by a third in men and two thirds in ships. He went on to provide some scientific proof accompanied with a few mathematical equations.
In an everyday example, this could mean that if you have nothing to do on a particular day, you might spend most of it in writing something as small as a birthday card. Choosing which card you like best, what pen colour to use, how personal or how long the message might be are all tasks that can potentially be dragged along to fill a span of a few hours. On the other hand, if you are totally broke, hitting rock bottom with taunting expenses ahead, you might be able to write something as big as an ebook in the course of a weekend and place it online for selling in record time.
Expanding Parkinson’s law
What sounds even more interesting, is the generalization of the law below
The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource
Worth mentioning that the reverse is not true.
You might have noticed or experienced that, particularly when the economy is booming, it happens quite often that companies hire much more additional staff than what is actually required by the additional work they have been commissioned.
Or, to shift gears into everyday tasks, think about how you usually pack for a trip. If you have plenty of time, you might as well use a few hours to pack a small bag for a weekend excursion. On the other hand, if you happen to be too busy and your time is extremely squeezed, you might pack for a 1-month absence abroad in less than an hour.
The bigger your house the more things you will accumulate and most of them you will not even need or use. The bigger the wardrobe the more clothes you will buy and most of them you will wear so rarely that at some point you will forget that you even own them. And it gets even sillier when you finish all the food in your plate even if you are full halfway or finishing off that bottle of wine even if you already feel sick of the amount of alcohol you have consumed.
What is frustrating with all the above is that we all have similar experiences in our lives but we usually let them occupy the subconscious part in our minds and consequently we never act on the facts. It’s too easy to become a time-waster without necessarily realising it. The Parkinson’s law is an observation that helps us bring those facts into the sphere of consciousness, thus taking appropriate action whenever desired or required.
The habit of success
In what would sound as common sense, we complete a task in as much time as it requires. In reality, and as derived from Parkinson’s law, we complete a task in as much time as we are given. If something has to leave our door today, it will be done today. If the same thing has to be sent out in three days, we will be working on it for three days.
The habit loop
Somewhere here I want to plug in the mechanism through which a habit is formed. I love habits, I have talked about them in the past and I will do in the future since I believe there are powerful tools in one’s productivity arsenal.
I want to describe in simple terms how you can turn success into a habit with the assistance of Patkinson’s law. And since the term success is open to countless different interpretations, for the sake of this argument I will define success as the completion of a defined goal.
A habit is the process during which a certain cue activates a specific routine that leads to a reward. The last bit required to close the loop and make it recurring is the craving for the reward.
Goal setting & habit formation
In order to succeed, meaning in order to complete a goal, you need to start having defined goals in the first place. And to set a goal, it’s not enough to specify a desired outcome – you also need to specify a defined timeframe. I need to (do this, in order to) achieve that by then.
Now, let’s see how you should articulate your goals. In principle, I believe that you should set goals that are seemingly unrealistic. Because that is the only way you force yourself beyond your limits and you become better, oftentimes eventually exceeding every expectation you might have had upon taking on your endeavor.
But unrealistic goals is not the right place to start. You have to get there gradually. If you want to endure through the bloody and dusty times of an enormous goal, you first need to create a very strong habit. And a habit is strong when the craving is strong. And a craving gets strong through repetition.
When you complete a goal, your reward, other than anything else, is a feeling of accomplishment. The more goals you complete the more you start craving that feeling. Eventually, you can actually become addicted to it. And once you are addicted to it, you can set as high goals as your mind can possibly imagine because then nothing will be able to stop your march towards your great reward.
In order to speed up this process, start by setting small goals very often. By leveraging Parkinson’s law you can become a productivity machine at the same time. For example, take on a task that normally you would think it should take a week to complete but allow yourself a day or maximum two to accomplish. What you will be left with is producing the same, if not more, amount of work in a fraction of the time that it would had usually taken you.
Repeat consecutively. In the course of a month or two you will have produced a one year’s equivalent work and you will have formed the desired craving. You will start crafting a very elegant and effective habit of success. And as you repeat this process, start setting more challenging goals gradually.
Therefore, success is a skill. It can be taught and it can be learned and eventually it can become a habit. As with every habit, those very first attempts will require a bit of effort. Those first steps require some self-discipline. Forging this self-discipline is a very personal process indeed. But I think there are a few things you can do to help it and I would like to layout them before you go, even though they relate more to big long-term goals rather than small everyday ones. After all, they are always somehow relevant whenever you try to achieve something.
- Prepare for the worst prior to starting pursuing a goal, whether big or small. Become aware of the fact that you will come across difficulties that you couldn’t have thought of in advance. Become aware of the fact that you will hit very low psychological levels during the process. If you have this awareness right from the beginning, when something bad actually happens that awareness will turn into the power you need to pull through.
- While you need to prepare for the worst prior to starting, once you start you need to switch mode and be as positive as possible. Try not to think of all the things that can possibly go wrong but instead think of all the things that can possibly go well!
- Focus on the end goal. Don’t get too attached to a bad situation. For this is just a tree. Open up the picture, see the whole forest and don’t get distracted by where you are. What really matters is where you are going.
Those last lines are not empty motivational words. In fact, I believe they are the deepest truth. We all possess more power than we think. We change when we decide to change. It is not luck, it is not circumstances and consequences, it is not wealth or connections. It is a decision. Pure. Simple. Powerful.
Thank you for reading! If you have any thoughts on what you just read, either good or bad ones, I would appreciate it if you leave a comment below and let me know. Feedback is invaluable in one’s strive for progress. And if you choose to share this post it would mean the world to me! Until soon!
The parkinson’s law and how to turn success into a habit appeared first on supersizeme