Parkinson’s Law: Why We Take Longer, The More Time We Have

Many readers will have noticed that it sometimes took a long time for them to complete a seemingly simple task.

How is it possible? It was surely precisely because they had a lot of time to do it. Let’s find out what this curious phenomenon is through Parkinson’s law, And what is the possible explanation hidden under this mechanism.

    What is Parkinson’s Law?

    Parkinson’s Law is a statement for which a person who has to do a task and has a certain amount of time to do it will always tend to occupy that time completely, It doesn’t matter how much is left to complete the activity. In other words, the work to be done will expand to fully adapt to the available time slot.

    It is a concept developed by author Cyril Northcote Parkinson, hence its name, in 1955. Originally creating for an essay he published in the weekly The Economist, but the impact was so great that he decided to publish a comprehensive book developing this phenomenon in depth. This volume was titled Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress. In this book, Cyril draws on his own experience as a member of the UK civil service.

    One of the examples with which the author tries to illustrate Parkinson’s law relates to the case of an elderly woman, without obligation in her everyday life to occupy her time. This woman decides at some point to write a letter for her niece. It is a seemingly simple task and the woman, as we said, has nothing else to do.

    However, it is precisely the fact that he has no other tasks to do and the knowledge that he has all day to write the letter that makes him take all day to finish writing. How is it possible? Because he knows it can take time. It’s a vicious circle. The person takes longer because they know it may take longer.

    The student’s example

    The above example perfectly visualizes the essence of Parkinson’s Law, but it is a phenomenon that can be easily observed in many projects within a company and of course, among the experts of this law: students, at least some of them. It is common for a situation similar to the following to occur. A professor orders research work from his students and gives them a three-week deadline.

    The time is reasonable for the assigned task, but it will still spark protests from many students., Alleging that the time is too short and that they would need more to be able to do the job properly. Suppose the teacher does not give in and the deadline is met. Students will have three weeks. Some will start working as soon as possible and distribute the load within that time.

    Others, however, will leave it at the last minute and spend the last few days terribly busy as they feel time is running out and there is still work to be done. By the time the delivery date arrives, most will have successfully completed the task, likely finalizing the final details on the day of the deadline. They will have widened the task by adjusting it to the time available, According to Parkinson’s law.

    But now let’s think about the possibility that the teacher gave in to the demands of the students and extended the term, no more and no less than until the end of the semester. Now the students would have four full months to do a job that could perfectly be done in three weeks, as we have already seen. What would happen?

    Some students, as in the other case, might start doing the work as soon as possible, if only to establish the first brushstrokes. However, many would choose to postpone it indefinitely, precisely because they would know they had plenty of time, As Parkinson’s Law dictates.

    But time inexorably flies and, there would come a time, surely there would be less than three weeks left for delivery, which was the original deadline, and many students would find that they hadn’t even started to make a job they were thinking of. they needed more than these three weeks. At this point, they would start working at a fixed price so that they could deliver the task on time.

    The conclusion we can draw with this example is that in reality the time offered to deliver the work never mattered, because the consequences were exactly the same in both cases: Parkinson’s law shared the task to students throughout the time they had, reaching delivery. date under similar conditions.

      Parkinson’s law in the bureaucracy

      Another of the issues Cyril focused on explaining his Parkinson’s law was that of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy was another constantly expanding element, according to this author, whether the number of tasks to be accomplished was maintained or even reduced..

      To explain this phenomenon, he gave the example of a real case that he himself observed during his research work as a naval historian. Parkinson realized that the British Navy, in just a decade and a half since 1914, had lost a total of two-thirds of its entire fleet.

      Likewise, the number of crew members was reduced by a third during this same period. One would think that in the face of such a decline in resources in this particular area, the number of officials and bureaucrats in charge of this area could also have been affected and therefore reduced in number, at least in part. However, the reality was very different.

      Not only was the number of bureaucrats in charge of British naval affairs not reduced, but others were also hired., Specifically in an increase of 6% each of the years in which this process has been studied. How is it possible that, in the face of such a dramatic decline in the fleet and the corresponding crew, administrative tasks not only do not decrease but increase?

      Cyril develops Parkinson’s law in these cases through two mechanisms which are those which would potentiate the effect of this phenomenon in bureaucratic contexts. The first of these would refer to the steady increase in the subordinates of each bureaucrat. The second principle is a consequence of the first and refers to the amount of work that some bureaucrats generate for others.

      Obviously, the more bureaucrats there are in a system, the more management and red tape they will generate at the next lower level. In other words, there is the paradox that, with more employees, the level of work that they generate and therefore must be managed is higher.

      This phenomenon has been studied at the mathematical level, concluding that if a pyramid of bureaucrats grows continuously by 6%, there comes a time when it collapsesBy devoting all its resources to the proper maintenance of its administration without being able to expand the work to be carried out.

      The Laws of Parkinson’s Disease

      Although Cyril originally established the so-called Parkinson’s Law, the truth is that later in the book of the same name he recounts three different laws, Which ones will we shell out below.

      1. Expansion of work

      We have already told in detail the first of these laws of Parkinson’s disease. It is the principle according to which a work to be done has grown to occupy the entire time slot that has been allocated to be able to complete it. For that, the same task can take us a week or a month, assuming either one fits the time we have..

      2. Increased expenses

      But Parkinson’s Law isn’t just about work. It can also be applied to expenses. In this way, one would observe that the expenses of a certain entity will increase until it has completely covered the revenue figure it has. Therefore, if we had more income, it is likely that immediately afterwards we would generate more expenses.

      This principle applies, as above, to organizations and individuals.

      3. Less relevance, more time

      Finally, in Parkinson’s Law we observe another curious phenomenon, namely that we tend to spend more time on a task, the more irrelevant it is. So the more relevant the task, the less time we will spend on it. There is an inversely proportional relationship.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Gutiérrez, GJ, Kouvelis, P. (1991). Parkinson’s Law and its implications for project management. Management sciences.
      • Parkinson, C. (1955). Parkinson’s Law. The Economist. London.
      • Parkinson, C., Osborn, RC (1957). Parkinson’s Law and other administrative studies. Houghton Mifflin.
      • Parkinson, C. (2002). Parkinson’s law or the search for progress. Modern penguin classics.

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