Cyril Northcote Parkinson was an active participant in British bureaucracy. Having served in the British Civil Service, Parkinson was well-acquainted with the inner workings of governmental departments and their efficiencies (or lack thereof).

He noted that as the British Empire declined in the mid-20th century, instead of shrinking, the number of employees in the Colonial Office (the part of the Civil Service overseeing the colonies) increased.

This was paradoxical. One would assume that as the responsibilities of the office decreased with the dwindling number of colonies, the office’s size and complexity would shrink. But, quite the opposite happened.

What Parkinson humorously pointed out was that work wasn’t being done faster or more efficiently. Instead, officials would generate more work for one another. They’d create work to justify their positions and, in many cases, to elevate their importance.

His observations led him to pen an essay that was both satirical and illuminating. It opened with the memorable line: “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This line resonated with many, from office workers to managers, and became the cornerstone of what we now refer to as “Parkinson’s Law.”

For example, if you’ve ever had a month to write an essay and somehow found yourself pulling an all-nighter the day before it was due, that’s Parkinson’s Law in action. Or, if you’ve found yourself rushing to finish your laundry on a Sunday evening even though you had a whole weekend free to do it, that’s all thanks to Parkinson’s Law.

In fact, one study by Dan Ariely and Klaus Wertenbroch titled “Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self-Control by Precommitment”, explored the influence of deadlines on task completion and the relationship between deadlines and task performance. It found that when participants were provided with explicit deadlines, they worked more efficiently and completed tasks more promptly. The imposed deadlines created a sense of urgency that counteracted the tendency to expand work over an extended period.

One reason for this is down to how we perceive value, importance, and urgency.

Often, when given ample time our brain interprets the task as less urgent, leading us to delay action. This could be in part because we equate time with flexibility. But, as the clock ticks and deadlines loom, urgency kicks in. Suddenly, that task becomes paramount, driving us into a flurry of action.

So, the next time you’re given a task, challenge yourself. Set a tighter deadline than necessary and watch how it affects your efficiency.

If you think a task will take three hours, give yourself two.

By creating a sense of urgency, you’ll focus better, prioritise more effectively, and work more efficiently.

Quote of the Day

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
Mark Twain

Tool of the Day

✅ Todoist

Todoist is perhaps the most popular task manager in the world. It’s used by over 20 million people and has a range of really simple but highly effective functions built into an interface that is really simple to use. Like the name suggests, you can input to-do lists, plan your day, keep track of deadlines, organise modules and generally keep track of your work all in one place.