How Parkinson’s Law Can Be Used In Team Management

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As a manager, you should constantly be asking yourself how you can make everyone on your team more efficient, productive, and happy in their role. Now more than ever, this is a tall order. The 9-5 office model feels archaic, and an increasing number of people are leaving their traditional office jobs behind in order to pursue freelance careers that offer them a much higher degree of autonomy and flexibility. To boost engagement and efficiency these days, you have to find creative ways to make sure everyone on your team feels like they are optimizing the way they spend their time, both at work and in regard to their work-life balance.

Enter Parkinson’s law. Even if you don’t know the name, you know the law. It states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Think about any paper you had to write in college for that class you didn’t like, or any task you’ve been given on a Monday that doesn’t really need to be finished until a weekly roundup on Friday. Be honest with how much time you spent twiddling your thumbs, staring at a blank page, and/or agonizing over the assignment rather than just doing it.

There’s a psychological dimension at work here: with more time, you have the option to worry about how to do it, when to do it, or how to get around doing it. However, if you return to that college memory, you know that once it’s 11 PM (or 2 AM) the night before the paper is due, you find your flow. We all have a fear of failure and a competitive streak, so when you wait until the 11th hour, both of those instincts are fully stoked. You’re racing against the clock, and as a result, you work much more efficiently and creatively.

As a manager, you should always consider how long a task should take before assigning it. If it’s Monday and you know you’ll need this one project executed by Friday, think twice before handing it off to Suzy first thing.

At first, this approach may seem counterintuitive: why not give your team as much of a forecast for the week ahead as possible? Isn’t it better to let them know what’s coming so they can plan accordingly? Yes and no.

If the project is something you could probably knock out in one hour, and you know that with Suzy’s particular skills in this area, she could probably do it even faster, then what is the gain of having it sit there all week? The chances that she even gets to it on a Monday when she’s scrambling to catch up on emails and things that piled up over the weekend are very slim. Unless, of course, you give it to her Monday and tell her you want it from her that afternoon.

To be an excellent manager, you need to intuit when Suzy will be able to attack this task most efficiently, and assign it accordingly. You should always be looking to maximize everyone’s efficiency – and that is not necessarily by giving them the full picture whenever you have it. Instead, take a load off of your employees’ backs by helping to manage their schedules as much as possible. By doing so, you’re giving them the freedom to focus on the task at hand.

As we move farther and farther away from the traditional office work model, more people want to adopt the mentality and lifestyle that is behind Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Workweek model. “Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” is a millennial concept that is driving everyone these days. Sure, a good number of employees do really want the full flexibility of going freelance, but what most are after is a work environment that makes them feel like they are spending their time well. By following Parkinson’s law as a manager, you’re creating the conditions for peak productivity so that everyone on your team works more effectively, efficiently, and as a result, will be more happy in their job.

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