Here’s a question that has the power to quickly change your life.
If you feel like you’re not getting enough done in a day… if you’re not making as much money as you’d like… or if you’re not living the life you’ve long yearned for, pay attention.
The question is simple.
Are you treating every minute of your day equally?
Do you treat the minute you crawl out of bed the same as the minute you set out to tackle a tough project?
Don’t write and tell us the answer.
We already know.
But, you’ll be pleased to learn, the problem may not be your fault.
Thanks to a peculiar human trait known as Parkinson’s law, nobody treats every minute equally.
Instead, we pull and stretch our time to fit our needs – sometimes rushing to get things done, other times burning our minutes as if we’re staring into an infinite well of them.
Parkinson’s law was discovered when scientists set out to study government waste.
What they found makes sense.
It proves why an old widow can take half the morning to put together her lunch, while an executive takes a couple of minutes… and it’s why they’ll both say they have no time to do anything else.
Hire More… Do Less
In studying Parkinson’s law recently, we uncovered some of the original research used to present the case in 1955. Like we said, researchers set out to study government waste. They wanted to know why the British government – particularly its navy – was getting so bloated.
What they found was crazy.
We apologize for the lack of clarity in the table above (it’s photocopied out of an old book). But what it shows is quite interesting.
As the number of ships in the navy shrank by more than 65% between 1914 and 1928, the number of men on those ships naturally decreased. And yet, the number of landlubber bureaucrats employed to manage the fleet surged higher.
The researchers wanted to know why…
Through simple math, they proved that any organization, not just a government agency, will grow its staff at a predictable pace if it’s allowed to.
And it will grow its workforce… without any change in the overall workload.
In other words, more folks will be on the payroll, but the same amount of work will get done.
“The fact is that the number of the officials and the quantity of the work to be done are not related to each other at all,” Cyril Parkinson wrote in an essay for The Economist that debuted the idea. “The rise in the total of those employed is governed by Parkinson’s law, and would be much the same whether the volume of the work were to increase, diminish or even disappear.”
Get More Done
In the decades since this law was first studied, it’s been pushed and pulled into many spheres.
Oddly enough, though, it’s a topic that’s rarely touted in academia. We looked through our old business-school books and couldn’t find a single mention. Perhaps few professors are eager to reveal an idea that may poke holes in the bloated body of so many American college campuses.
But where the law has proven most powerful is in the realm of personal productivity.
Again, Parkinson’s theory was simple. His research mathematically proved that work expands to fill the amount of time (or employees) we give it.
If it must be done in a year, he said, it will take a year.
If it needs to be done next Friday, it will be done next Friday.
This is exactly why we map out our day every morning. We give each of our jobs an allotted time frame (never being too generous). And, most important, we stick to them.
Our schedule is typically broken into hourlong segments. But some folks take it even further. Some break their day into 10-minute increments. It’s very detailed… and very productive.
The trick to all of this should be obvious.
Whether we’re dealing with our money, our job or our time, Parkinson’s research of Britain’s navy proved we must set carefully defined limits.
These limits must be 1) realistic and 2) aggressive.
But just as important, we must be accountable for sticking to them. If one can’t hold himself accountable, he must find somebody who will (we know folks who give a copy of their schedules to a coworker or their spouse each morning).
When done right, you’ll get more done. You’ll be happier. And you’ll find an immense amount of new time on your hands.
Treat it right.