The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


What Is 'Parkinson's Law'?

Parkinson's Law is usually expressed as "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." If something must be done in a year, it'll be done in a year. If it must be done in six months, then it will.

Parkinson's Law should not be used to set unreasonable deadlines.

Parkinson's Law is best used as a Counterfactual Simulation question. What would it look like to finish a project on a very short period of time?

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Parkinson's Law'

In 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian, wrote a humorous essay in The Economist based on his experience in the British civil service.

In that essay, Parkinson's first sentence became his eponymous law: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." If something must be done in a year, it'll be done in a year.

If something must be done next week, it'll be done next week. If something must be done tomorrow, it'll be done tomorrow.

We plan based on how much time we have, and when the deadline approaches, we start to make Choices and Tradeoffs to do what must be done to complete the task by the deadline.

Parkinson's Law should not be considered carte blanche to set unreasonable deadlines. All projects take time-you certainly can't build a skyscraper in a day, or a factory in a week. The more complex the project, the more time it typically takes-to a point.

Parkinson's Law is best used as a Counterfactual Simulation question.

What would it look like if you finished the project on a very aggressive timescale? If you had to build a skyscraper in a day, how would you go about doing it? Answer the question the way you would a counterfactual, and you'll discover techniques or approaches you can use to get the work done in less time.

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, once said, "If you split your day into ten-minute increments, and you try to waste as few of those ten minute increments as possible, you'll be amazed at what you can get done."

For small tasks, use what I call Ingvar's Rule-assume each task will take no more than ten minutes to complete, then begin. This includes meetings and phone calls: for some reason, the default time period for meetings is an hour-whether you need it or not. Often you can get just as much, if not more, done if you assume that the basic unit of time for a meeting is ten minutes.

Ingvar's Rule is a Counterfactual-what would you do if you only had ten minutes to get something done? Act accordingly.

Questions About 'Parkinson's Law'


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

Cyril Northcote Parkinson, naval historian and management theorist


From Chapter 7:

Working With Yourself


https://personalmba.com/parkinsons-law/



WANT TO BE NOTIFIED WHEN UPDATES ARE PUBLISHED? Subscribe to Josh Kaufman's email newsletter. You'll receive Personal MBA updates, Josh's award-winning research, and useful resources that will help you make more money, get more done, and have more fun. It's free!

The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

More about Josh Kaufman →