You’ve probably heard this adage countless of times: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This, of course, is Parkinson’s law.
In a nutshell, Parkinson’s law means that if you give yourself a week to complete a task, said task–even if it was a simple task to begin with–will increase in complexity so that you’ll end up having to use the entire week in order to complete it.
Parkinson’s law doesn’t just apply to time management; it applies to everything:
- Your belongings will expand in order to fill all of the storage space that you have available. You’ve seen this happen: you move into a bigger apartment and, at first, you have lots of space available. However, within a remarkably short amount of time every nook and cranny seems to be occupied by a piece of furniture, books, sports equipment, knick-knacks, and so on.
- Your needs will expand so that you spend all of the money that you have available. Every month you tell yourself that you’re going to save ten percent of your paycheck; however, all sorts of things “come up”–a sale, a gift you have to get for a friend, and so on–and by the end of the month all of the money is gone.
- Your appetite will increase in accordance to the amount of food that’s on your plate, so that you’ll end up eating everything that’s on the plate (if you love to eat, as I do, you know that this is true).
The end result of the application of Parkinson’s law is that you don’t have enough time to do everything that you need to get done; you don’t have any money left over at the end of the month in order to set up a six month emergency fund; you’re surrounded by clutter; and, since you’re constantly overeating, you’re putting on weight.
Being aware of Parkinson’s law can radically improve your life because of the simple solution that it offers. The obvious solution is to break Parkinson’s law by setting limits:
- Decide what tasks you need to get done, and then set a limit on the amount of time that you have available to perform each task;
- Set a limit on the amount of money that you have available for spending;
- Set a limit on how much storage space you have available;
- Set a limit on the size of your food servings; and so on.
Each of these limits is further explained below.
Set Time Limits
Setting time limits and deadlines is the most straightforward way to break Parkinson’s law. When you shorten the amount of time that you have available to complete a given task, you’re making sure that you’ll focus on the essential elements of the task.
For example, if I give myself an open-ended amount of time to write a blog post, it takes me forever to write it. I can spend hours surfing the internet looking for the perfect topic to write about; once I choose a topic I’ll research it to death; and I’ll spend far too much time writing the post–picking the right words, working on the sentence structure, adding more examples, and on and on.
The solution that I’ve found to this problem is to set limits for each stage of the writing process. And it works beautifully: once I’ve reached the time limit for one step, I move on to the next one. In the end, I publish whatever I have once my time is up.
Set Storage Limits
A few years ago I lived in a large apartment. The apartment was filled with my furniture and my “stuff”. I had gotten so used to my “stuff” that when I thought of decluttering I couldn’t even imagine what I could do without.
However, I left my job at the Panama Canal and started working for myself, and I moved to a smaller place in order to save money. During the move I got rid of a lot of things that just wouldn’t fit in my new apartment. Today I’m comfortable in the smaller apartment, and not only do I not miss the stuff that I threw out or gave away during the move, but I can’t even remember what it was.
When it comes to storage space, we all have a tendency to accumulate more and more things until all of the storage space is filled up. The solution, then, is to limit the amount of storage space that you have available. Here’s an example of how you can do this:
- If you have book clutter, give away all of the books that you don’t really need any more and limit yourself to one bookshelf. Then, since you’ve limited the amount of storage that you have available for books, if you want to bring a new book into your home, one of the old ones has to go.
Set Portion Limits
Last year, New York City banned restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas from selling sweetened drinks in sizes larger than 16 ounces. The reason for the ban is that the United States–as well as other nations–has an obesity epidemic. In addition, there’s research to support that shrinking the size of food and drink containers helps to shrink people’s waistlines.
University of Pennsylvania epidemiology and nursing professor Karen Glanz explains that people tend to drink what’s in the container they purchase. Therefore, if they’re forced to buy a smaller container due to the ban, they’ll drink less sugary soda (which means that they’ll be consuming less calories). In addition, another Penn professor has the following to say:
“Other research … has showed that when you divide the same amount of food into two small containers, rather than one large container, it reduces consumption [because] people notice their progress more when consuming from smaller containers . . . ”
Based on the research cited above, do the following:
- Instead of buying a can of Pringles, buy the single-size serving.
- Instead of buying a bag of M&Ms, buy the smaller “fun size”.
- When you’re serving your cereal in the morning, choose a smaller bowl.
Set Money Limits
A derivative of Parkinson’s law is that expenditures rise to meet income. As you earn more money, your needs increase and you end up spending more money. Therefore, in order to succeed financially, you need to break Parkinson’s law when it comes to money. Again, you do this by setting limits.
Motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy explains the following:
“Here is a rule that will almost guarantee that you become wealthy over the course of your working lifetime: Save and invest 50 percent of any increase you earn in your salary or compensation for the rest of your career.
You can spend the other 50 percent of the increase on improving your standard of living. But resolve today to save half of every increase for the rest of your career. This discipline alone will ensure that you achieve financial independence, probably several years before you expect.”
Of course, the other limit that you can set is to have a portion of your salary directly deposited into a savings account each month. Then, you’re free to spend whatever money you have left. Improve your finances by setting limits on the amount of money that you have available for spending.
Break Parkinson’s Law–by setting time, money, storage, and portion limits–and radically improve your life. What limits are you going to start setting in order to break Parkinson’s law? Please share in the comments section
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