Parkinson's Law - The Art of Setting Limits

Parkinson's Law is one of the most important laws to understand in relation to the use of your time. Once you’re aware of it, you can significantly improve your work-life balance.

Credited to Englishman, C. Northcote Parkinson in 1955, it states that:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

At some level, we all know this happens, but raising awareness of it to the level of a ‘law’, means you can use it rather than be a victim.

Your values, purpose, roles, goals, projects, and even actions are all affected by your level of awareness and attitude towards them.

What this means in practice...

It's helpful to consider Parkinson's Law in terms of two levels: Higher (the things you actually decide to do) and Lower (what you actually end up achieving):

  • Higher level. Essentially, this means anything that dictates what you do. The ‘higher’ you go (values, purpose, roles and goals), the greater the implications it has in terms of your work-life balance. In other words, unless you put limits on your work, it will expand into the rest of your life.
  • Lower level. On a day to day basis, seek to improve the accuracy of the time you allocate to your projects, tasks and actions. For example, say you had two weeks to complete a minor project -- more than enough time to do it. Parkinson's Law would apply if you give it more thought and time than it warrants, which is highly probable.

Increase your awareness to improve your advantage

The most important thing? Becoming aware of it.

Doing so will mean you gradually improve your ability to allocate the right amount of time to anything. This is one of the strategies at work and in the rest of life, too.

As you improve your 'allocation accuracy', you'll increasingly notice the advantages it gives you.

Major benefits include increased efficiency, less stress, better balance, and more time to do what you want with.

Learn to limit

Learn to put limits on what you do. Work expands to fill the time allocated to it, so set limits on what you can. This takes time and practice to get right, but, as with all effective systems, it’s worth it.

Do you have a choice about when to stop working each day?

If your working hours are undefined, an awareness of Parkinson's Law will benefit you and your ability to set realistic limits on it.

Work out what hours you want, or need, to put in, and stick to them. Obviously a degree of flexibility is needed, but make it the exception to the rule.

Whether you work from home or not, use limits. Not only for your own well being, but for others who also value your time, attention and presence. 

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Parkinson’s Law