“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
Even if you haven’t heard the term, Parkinson’s Law, I’m sure you are familiar with the idea:
The law states that if you reserve some amount of time for a given task, the task takes up the whole time, no matter if the task could be done faster or not.
And the implication?
- In his post The Not-To-Do List: 9 Habits to Stop Now, Tim Ferris suggests: “Review Parkinson’s Law — and force yourself to cram within tight hours so your per-hour productivity doesn’t fall through the floor”.
- In his 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines Scott H. Young says: “Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.”
Just as you thought:
What these guys are saying is that if work expands to fill the available time slot, you need to make the time slot tighter to become more productive.
But is it really this simple? Can you really make productivity sky-rocket by just making your deadlines as tight as possible?
No, you can’t.
While the law described above might be true, it doesn’t say anything about making deadlines tighter.
What it says is that if you reserve too much time, you’ll probably spend the extra time doing something not related to the task itself. But what happens if you reserve too little time? Do you get the task done even faster?
And if you do, what happens then?
- You can get the job done faster, but with lower quality. But before you rejoice and choose this option, remember that the loss of quality will likely come and haunt you later – you’ll lose the time benefit at that point anyway.
- You can get the job done by telling your people to work overtime (or working overtime yourself). The work gets done, but the price will be high: burn outs, loss of motivation, high turnover.
But most likely:
- You don’t get the work done and set a new deadline (using the same Parkinsonian approach).
- You don’t get the work done on the second deadline either (as it wasn’t based on any real estimates).
And when you finally get the job done, you are stressed out, broken. Finished. You feel like a failure. How come I couldn’t make it?
But be honest, you saw it coming? Didn’t you?
If your schedule is based on nothing more than an idea of making things as tight as possible, there is really no reason to assume that you would finish your project by that schedule.
It’s the same as counting:
- There’s an important meeting in Paris in two hours.
- I am in New York, so the distance is 3635 miles, or 5851 km.
- Well, that means that I just need to travel at 1817 mph. Can do.
To get your work done you need time. It’s a law of nature.