Parkinson’s Law, Trust, and Efficiency


I’ve talked about it before but the standard workday just leads to inefficiency.  I was reminded recently of Parkinson’s Law and could not help but see striking parallels in why working 8-5 just plain sucks and rarely results in great performance.   Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British Naval Officer, coined the adage as the opening line in the weekly news publication The Economist in 1955.  The adage simply states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Simply put, if you have a task that takes 10 minutes but you have an hour to do it, it will take an hour. 

Move now to the workplace, where a variety of things need to be done.  And for all our frustrations with managing priorities (managing time is what you do with cell phone minutes) we know, there is a good part of our day where we did absolutely nothing of consequence.  Yet, if we were told as soon as we were done with whatever work we had we could leave and enjoy the rest of our day, you could bet we would use our time more wisely.  Because it is simply that, Our Time.  It was given back to us as opposed to being held hostage by our employers.

I am lucky, I work in a pretty trusting environment where my boss is not looming over my shoulder or constantly asking for progress reports just to make sure I am ‘on task’.  But most people are not that lucky, we work in boxes of steel, concrete, and glass with some distracting carpet and wall sconces to hide that fact that we are in a box.  In an effort to give our lives some semblance of balance, our employers build coffee stations, game rooms, gyms, locker rooms, day care, and all other fashions to help us feel more balanced.  At the cost of millions of dollars employers bring the outside world inside…when all we really want is the freedom to go outside to get it.  If I had a choice between free latte at work and a $5 latte at a coffee shop…I’d still opt for the coffee shop.

The biggest hurdle in all this is not necessarily getting past any labor laws or demolishing some arcane paradigm, the real hurdle is trust.  Trust in your employees that they will get the job done.  If they don’t, well, who cares if they were at their desks, the feedback is still the same.  Manage people’s results, not their time.  Let them do that, it is what they want anyway.  And according to Parkinson’s Law, if you want things done quickly let us figure out how long it takes instead of telling us how much time we have.  You’ll be surprised how much more effective people are with their time when it is in fact, their time.

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One thought on “Parkinson’s Law, Trust, and Efficiency

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Parkinson’s Law, Trust, and Efficiency « Peak Alignment -- Topsy.com

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