Why Time Blocking your Calendar using Parkinson’s Law will improve your productivity
Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? It is the adage that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’, first articulated by British bureaucrat Cyril Northcote Parkinson. Or sometimes shortened to “Work expands to fill time”. We see Parkinson’s Law in action in the way bureaucracies tend to grow continuously. Everyone is always ‘busy’, so there’s always room to hire more staff, who then become busy themselves.
Parkinson’s Law also tends to apply to our own work as individuals. Have you noticed how the more time you have to do something, the longer you will take to do it? How’s that list of to-do items around the house that you were definitely going to finish off in 2020 because we weren’t able to do anything else?
The opposite applies as well. Isn’t it amazing how much you can get done in a short space of time when there’s a deadline looming? As I write this article, just ahead of the summer holidays, you might be experiencing this by smashing through a big pile of work before you knock off for Christmas. That’s Parkinson’s Law at work too.
You can use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage by finding ways to build it into your work routines.
A way to leverage Parkinson’s Law is to use ‘time blocking’. Essentially this means blocking out time in your calendar to work on specific tasks. It’s like having meetings with yourself. Time blocking is consistent with a statement I’ve often used to get people thinking about their calendar as a planning tool: ‘Don’t just plan where you need to be – also plan what you need to do’. Check out this article too.
Time blocking helps improve your productivity because there’s something psychologically reinforcing about having scheduled a task ahead of time. Also, thanks to Parkinson’s Law, you’re more likely to complete the task in the time you’ve set aside for it. This is Parkinson’s Law helping you to reduce procrastination!
Time blocking can also prevent you from taking on more work than you have time to do. It’s always so easy to say ‘yes’ to someone’s request for you to do something for them. But if you’re forced to fit that task into your calendar, which you find is already full, you might be more willing to say, ‘Sorry – I don’t have the time‘.
Block out time for routine tasks
A good place to start is to block out time in your calendar for your routine tasks. Routine tasks are those that require around 30 minutes or more to complete and that you repeat regularly. Examples are completing a monthly report, generating weekly stats, filling out your time sheet, etc.
You’ll slot the time for these routine tasks into your diary around the meetings that are already in there. Most people include all of their meetings in their calendar, of course, but most fail to allocate time to those jobs they must get done.
Once you’ve added your routine tasks to your calendar, you can sit back and get a good overall feel of how much ‘spare’ time you have left in the week. This can be a little scary, of course, but in the long run you are much better off dealing with the reality of your situation than the unrealistic fictional version most of us carry in our heads.
Then add in more complex tasks
I define complex tasks as those that will require more than one sitting to complete. Often these are related to the larger projects you might be working on. When you’ve got the hang of blocking out time for your routine tasks, start to do the same for chunks of time spent on more complex tasks.
Eventually, with complex tasks added to your calendar along with meetings and routine tasks, you’ll finally be in a good position to see how much, if any, spare time you have left to say ‘yes’ to the next request that comes along.
Working 5 days in 4
Interestingly, some organisations are looking to replace the traditional 5-day week with a 4-day week, while continuing to pay their employees the same amount of money. This is on the basis of Parkinson’s law. In reality, few of us work at our full efficiency for more than short periods here and there. The thinking behind the 4-day week is that by having less time to work in, you’ll maximize your efficiency in the time you do have.
After all, it’s the output that’s important – not how much time it takes to create that output.
This is a fascinating development really. It means people will really have to work smarter rather than harder to get their work done in the more limited time available to them. However, it obviously involves a fairly significant change to the way of working across an organisation.
So how do you make Parkinson’s Law work for you?
Put simply, allocate to yourself, ahead of time, specific times in which to get important things done. Block out time time in other words. This will help you avoid overloading yourself and stop leaving these important tasks to the last minute.
Geoff Prior, December 2020
Lingford Consulting – The Productivity Specialists