Nov 19 2013

Many of us are familiar with the Peter Principle, many the Dilbert Principle but I am finding few people who are familiar with Parkinson’s Law. The adage that “work expands to fill the time available to do it”. The idea was first published in the 50’s & was observed in the British Civil Service. The linked articles go into more depth but the principle holds true & can be seen in most organisations, if not all.

How do we combat this issue? The same way we eat an elephant, one bite at a time. Or at least in concept the same way. Things take longer to do because we give ourselves longer to do them. In most organisations that I visit where they have good visual management, they still lack a sense of urgency & pace. This is due to obvious problems which drive clear actions, but these actions, like most other activities in an organisation, are considered & tasked as a whole.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t “Begin with the end in mind” (Covey) but we should break the actions/activities/tasks down into what we can accomplish in a short time, usually in that day. By doing so we can achieve 2 things; first, a sense of success or achievement we get when we actually accomplish a task on time. Secondly, and probably more often the case at least to start, is to provide more opportunities to get back on track if we do fall behind. It makes it easier to spot problems when they are small, when we miss one small milestone, not the entire task or action.

Smaller tasks with closer milestones are much more likely to be achieved than a big task with 1 milestone, the end. Most of us will see this as obvious when thinking about large projects, but when the overall tasks become smaller than a few weeks, we like to think of them as a single activity. In reality, we would be better served to break that down again into simple, single tasks that can be achieved in a day. (Eating that elephant one bite at a time).

Doing this would also provide the opportunity (or multiple opportunities) to adjust or change course.

Regardless – if you give someone 2 weeks to do a task, it is likely they will take the whole 2 weeks, and often more. If you break that down into tasks that can be achieved in daily chunks, they are much more likely to achieve each days’ tasks. Think about it, try it, what have you got to gain? More time!

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