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April 29, 2020

Parkinson's Law

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Are you familiar with Parkinson’s law? It’s the idea that work expands to fill the time you have allotted to do it. Let’s first use an example from my own work. For preparing an intro for a Self Improvement Sit Down guest, I could either allocate a full hour to write the intro, or only 20 minutes. Either way, the time I allocate is how long it will take to me complete the task. Now, that we understand the principle, let’s quantify the trade-off.

Doing it in an hour means I can really pull in information. I can review all of my notes on the guest, re-listen to intros of the guest on other podcasts, and take my time on the way I position every word. Or, in 20 minutes, I act more on the intuition I’ve built up previously in my preparation, focus more on not missing any major concepts rather than the perfect flow of the words, and get it done in a third of the time.

This trade-off between “quality and speed” is something we all experience across the board, but with respect to Parkinson's law there’s one other factor that’s important, which is urgency. When I have less time, I work with more focus and apply more mental energy because it’s required of me. And I find that in this particular case, the impressions I can get down in 20 minutes is 95% of what I could accomplish in the hour, and the trade-off for time is worth it.

So, to summarize Parkinson's law, work expands to fill the time you’ve allotted to doing it. Experiment with yourself and some of your tasks to see how you perform under different time constraints, and evaluate the quality of your work so you can quantify the trade-off for yourself.

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