What does Parkinson’s Law say about the time, deadline, and procrastination of a work assignment?
C. Northcote Parkinson (1909–1993) was a British maritime historian, lecturer and writer who formulated the humorous law that has become famous today in the economic journal The Economist in 1955.
C. Northcote Parkinson (1909–1993) was a British maritime historian, lecturer and writer who formulated the humorous law that has become famous today in the economic journal The Economist in 1955. The point of Parkinson’s Law was to explain the behaviour of managers in the British Navy and public sector at the time. In The Economist in July of this year, readers were reminded of Parkinson’s Law again when discussing the opportunities and risks associated with the home office. The article was also commented on his blog by leadership psychologist Dr. Robert Hogan.
Parkinson’s law says: the time it takes to complete a task swells to the deadline of the task. It is rare to report on execution ahead of time. Hogan suggests that there are three main psychological explanations for Parkinson’s law:
First, procrastination, or leaving things to the last minute (we remember it from school days). Procrastination, in turn, has a number of different reasons: fear of failure, laziness and, of course, passive-aggressiveness (too many interruptions and I will start to work against covertly).
Secondly, there is the fear that if the task is completed ahead of time, additional tasks will be delegated. So: why be diligent and make your life difficult?
The third explanation: people try to appear active and engaged during work and avoid situations where, after completing a task, they have to sit just like that (maybe I will be laid off?). One way to seem active is to stretch the execution of the task to the deadline and furnish the time with all sorts of pseudo-activities, unnecessary meetings and paperwork.
Perhaps there is still some grain of truth in Parkinson’s law, due to a person’s tendency to optimize their energy expenditure when income and benefits are fixed, and it could this still be valid in some organizations today?
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