Parkinson’s Law – or – The Pursuit of Uber Productivity


I write my business plan every fall.

It’s more like a giant To Do List, Mission Statement and Daily framework for how I want to attack the coming year all rolled in to one.

I try to attend a national conference during the last week of October every year and when I return to the office I sit down, assess how I’ve done so far on my previous year’s plan and what I need to do in the next two months to finish the year strong.  Then I write out my plan for the coming year.

At the end of 2017 I recognized that I had run into an unexpected problem.  I realized that up to that point my goals had been too general and too easy to achieve.  Ultimately, I had left too much time unspecified in my day and filled it with unimportant, low productivity busy work.

It was then that I learned Parkinson’s Law.

According to Wikipedia, Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.  Or that a bureaucracy grows to use every resource allotted to it.

This was first posited in 1955 by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in an essay published in The Economist.  Parkinson was a naval officer and historian of the 2nd World War who wrote over 60 books on history and management theory through his experience as a civil servant.  His theory was later expanded upon in the best-selling book “Parkinson’s Law or The Pursuit of Progress” published in 1958.

When I was writing my business plan for 2018, under the heading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) I made the bold pronouncement that to achieve my goals for this year I would need to reach out to 40 clients, contacts and prospects every single day!  (How I arrived at that number is a discussion for another time, it’s an interesting story too but not what I want to focus on today.)  When I showed that to a colleague he laughed and said it couldn’t be done.  Well it can!  And I’ve done it to great effect because I made it not just a goal but a requirement. 

Now to be clear – reaching out is not the same as having a conversation or a meeting.  Writing an email, leaving a message or sending a text all count.

In my pursuit of that magic number I have learned 3 things that world views as negatives that Parkinson’s Law requires in the positive to achieve more.  Stress, Pressure and Nervousness, when channeled in their positive form can be used to stimulate high performance.

That’s:

Stress –not distress

Pressure – not anxiety

Nervousness – not worry

Hall of Fame Pitcher, Nolan Ryan once said that the day he didn’t feel the pressure to perform when he stepped on the mound was the day he knew it was time to retire.

Motivational coach and productivity expert Darren Hardy once relayed a story from a 95-year-old business leader and friend of his about what he called Genesis Deadlines.  According to this business legend, God created heaven and earth in six days to show us and inspire us about what could be done in a short span of time.  This man would routinely take his goals and plans and shorten the time frame by a third before making them public or presenting them to his team specifically to create pressure and inspire creativity.

My goal of 40 reach-outs is part of a larger, stress inducing requirement of my daily life.  Without making my goals requirements or turning my want to into have to I would slow down and fill my life with mediocrity.

How do you stretch your capacity, create pressure and turn your life to the pursuit of productivity?  I’d love to hear your story in the comments or send me an email, I promise to respond to every one…

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

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