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Set your own agenda for living

Parkinson's First Law

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

C. Northcote Parkinson tells a story about how an elderly lady of leisure can spend an entire day in writing and dispatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take, an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street etc, etc. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.

This ‘law’ is pretty tongue in cheek but I am sure we can all recognise a bit of ourselves in it. So what does it mean and how can it be applied to help us in everyday life?

If we have a week to complete a task we take a week, if we have two weeks to complete the same task, we’ll take two weeks, two days then two days. We will leave it until the last possible moment and then rush to finish it sometimes staying up all night if we have to and sometimes missing the deadline. It’s human nature I know but wouldn’t it be better to complete the task in the shortest possible time and move onto the next one or onto doing what we want to do instead of have it hanging over us.

Try this experiment. Think of a job you do regularly; now how would you go about it if you had half the time to do it in? There is usually only one answer; FOCUS, you would have to reduce the number of distractions and spend less time thinking. We spend very little of the allotted time actually working to complete the task. We get easily distracted. We think of a million other things rather than the task at hand. We make coffee, a phone call, we check our e-mail, speak to a friend, do another unrelated job, anything but concentrating on the task in hand.

The more time we give ourselves to complete a task the more distractions we use to fill the time.

Think again what would happen if you had half the amount of time to complete your tasks? What would you do to cope? Or a third of the time? Write down what strategies you would employ. You would have to eliminate all the distractions, you would have to be more focussed, more organised, more in control. You would just get on with it and not think about it.

Eliminate all non essentials. Anything that doesn’t help is useless

This technique is especially good to use if you have a deadline to meet at work or just to get through your daily task list so there’s more free time for what you want to do.

Use it regularly as a game you play – don’t take it too seriously and cause yourself stress or a heart attack. Find your own balance. Find a new way of working. And if there isn’t enough work to keep you busy, use this new found confidence in your abilities, to get a new job that stretches you and is better rewarded.