Why you need to understand Parkinson’s law

The term was first coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in a humorous essay he wrote for the Economist in 1955. To make it easier to understand Parkinson’s law we shall discuss a scenario. An older woman of leisure can devote a whole day to composing and sending a postcard to her friend. An hour is spent looking for the postcard, another will be spent looking for spectacles, a half-hour will be spent looking for the address, only an hour and a quarter will be spent writing, and twenty minutes will be spent deciding whether or not to take an umbrella to the pillar-box across the street.

“It’s a well-known fact that work grows to occupy the time allotted for completion.”

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

The complete effort that would have normally occupied a regular busy man for three minutes may leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, concern, and toil. Given an urgency, even the woman would have completed the task within an hour but she spread it around the whole day.

Parkinson's law graph between effort and time

The graph of Parkinson’s law states that if the effort to complete work is more less time is needed and vice versa

Why work expands to fill the time available?

Procrastination is a key player in Parkinson’s Law, aside from the work itself becoming increasingly complex. Knowing that we have a certain amount of time to complete a task often causes us to put it off until the last minute and our delays in getting started result in the task taking longer. The looming deadlines motivate people. According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, there is an optimal level of arousal for optimal task performance. As a result, the impending deadline serves as a much-needed kick in the pants to get us to buckle down and focus.

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

Bike shed effect or Parkinson's law of triviality

Parkinson’s law of triviality is an observation about people’s inclination to spend a lot of time on minor details while neglecting more important matters. The act of wasting time on trivial details while important matters are inadequately attended is sometimes known as bikeshedding. The law of triviality has consequences in a variety of business areas, including time management, resource allocation, project planning, and project management.

How to use Parkinson’s Law for your advantage?

Understanding Parkinson law is just half a battle. What we really need is to prevent it for happening in your company and get your work done with full efficiency.

Clearly outline your vision statement and drivers:

Assume your boss has just asked you to alphabetize a massive stack of files. You have no idea what the files are, whether they’re important, or why they need to be organized alphabetically. How eager will you be to get started on those files right away? Not so much right. That’s because there’s no clear importance or impact associated with the task. To stop company must communicate the vision of the project.

Clarify roles and responsibilities:

It’s critical to clearly outline where everyone fits in any project, especially when a lot of different players and teams are involved.

DACI framework helps to establish clear roles and decision making: –

  • Driver: The one person in charge of gathering stakeholders, compiling all pertinent data, and delivering a conclusion by the agreed-upon deadline. Depending on the decision, this may or may not be the full-time project owner.
  • Approver: Someone will have to pull the trigger, so to speak. This person is known as the approver because they are the person or group of people with the authority to approve or veto a project.
  • Contributor: A contributor is a subject matter expert who will be consulted by the driver. They provide their unique perspective on the problem and assist in making the best decision possible. This can be one person, but it’s usually a group of people, given the variety of problems.
  • Informed: These are stakeholders in the project who need to be informed regularly. They are typically the ones who only want to know how the project is progressing. This group is powerless to influence the project’s outcome. They’re just information storage containers.
Understand what’s in and out of scope:

You and your team should agree on what is in and out of scope for the project during the kick-off meeting. Your entire team will be better equipped to obstruct Parkinson’s Law if these guidelines are established from the start. When a new feature request or another suggestion arises during the project. You can refer back to your project kickoff and remind the team that this was agreed to be out of scope.

Set your timeline:

Isn’t it interesting that the timeline comes last in the project kick-off? In real life, that almost never happens. However, it is an intelligent approach to project management. Consider constructing a home. You wouldn’t go to a builder and say, “I need a house that’s this size and looks exactly like this example, and it has to be completed by this date.” No, you and the builder would discuss your expectations and the work that needs to be done, and then set a completion date based on that information.


Companies must understand Parkinson’s law and stop the triviality occurring from it beforehand. It has been a leading cause for projects and companies to lose efficiency. They must find all the factors that are wasting time and deduce a better timeline to make work go efficiently. Also, find the points of effort that are not giving any positive results like unnecessary meetings every week.

Meetings are a waste of time

But the best thing for you is you now know how to stop this from affecting you. Understanding the problem is halfway towards solving it and becoming a better person.

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