“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Written in jest by C Northcote Parkinson about postwar bureaucracy in 1955, we’ve come to know this musing as Parkinson’s law. A so-called explanation as to why we can’t get anything done, the concept still lives on today. But is the notion that work expands to fill time available a myth? Or is there some truth ringing from these sentiments?
More and more companies are trialling a shorter working day; with the clock ticking just a little faster productivity seems to have improved for many, relying on a work smart and keep your focus ideology. In this blog post, we’ll be discussing the benefits of reduced hours and how this approach could transform your businesses efficiency. Of course, this short day structure may not suit every company but we’ve also provided you with some additional killer tips to ensure your team maintains high levels of productivity throughout the day.
What does the notion that work expands to fill time available actually mean?
Parkinson pointed to two critical elements that lead to bureaucratisation – what he called the law of multiplication of subordinates, the tendency of managers to hire two or more subordinates to report to them so that neither is in direct competition with the manager themself; and the fact that bureaucrats create work for other bureaucrats.
In essence, you may begin to create artificial layers – promoting employees to keep them motivated and satisfied within their position at a company. As the pyramid like-structure of a business grows, and if the actual workload doesn’t increase nor provide new customers, you may be adding unnecessary expenses that eat into any profits. Therefore, this concept of inefficiency or the notion that work expands to fill time available may be accurate in some scenarios, should we allow a business to spiral unnecessarily.
Fast forward to our current workloads, and we now tend to relate this concept to our procrastination levels – when a deadline isn’t immediately looming over us, we tend to allow the time taken to complete a task to steadily increase.
The benefits of a shorter day
So, can a shorter day actually increase our productivity levels? When we know the clock is ticking just that little bit faster and the day is ending that little bit sooner, we understand the importance of staying focused the entire period. As humans, we have a limited capacity for attention, memory and fatigue and therefore, we sporadically divide this throughout the day. If we are forced to concentrate for several hours, our work, as a consequence, may suffer.
Think about how little work is done after 4 pm on a Friday! It’s a tendency for the last few hours of the day to suffer in terms of productivity. The trailblazers for the six-hour day hail from Sweden, where a variety of companies have cut their working week to improve wellbeing and as a result have reported improvements in productivity and lower staff turnover.
We can therefore say, a shorter day provides:
- Increased levels of productivity – work shorter hours, and you’ll be more focused and less likely to have to take time off due to illness.
- Overall employee satisfaction/wellbeing – less work and more play makes for happier employees – simple!
- Reduced levels of staff turnover – why would anyone want to look elsewhere for a job?
- A reduced carbon footprint – by reducing the time spent at work, we’ll collectively make a difference to the global carbon footprint.
- Time for other activities – with more time available, we may also see an increase in volunteering, a new hobby etc.
Are there any negatives?
The notion that work expands to fills time available could be deemed a myth, and a shorter working day may not, therefore, be effective for all companies. Particularly for those within hospitality, customer services or national services, your workload tends to affected day-by-day due to popularity levels. On the other hands, creative industries may benefit as deadlines and burnout can see fresh, exciting ideas take a tumble.
A few things to consider before implementing are:
- What will happen to our customers if we are not working full hours?
- Will deadlines still be met?
- Would I need to hire an additional employee?
- Will pay levels remain the same?
- Could I stagger start times over the day?
- Will we work fewer hours a day or the same with an additional day off?
Whilst there are exceptions, a shorter working day could certainly be effective for your business however, it is important to consider the impact and perhaps take this change gradually to avoid any major issues.
The notion that work expands to fill time available: How to stay productive in the workplace
There are certain individuals (you may describe them as robots or machines!) that seem to be able to work highly effectively, consistently. A person whose work is always finished early, and always hits deadlines in advance – but how on earth do they do it? We’ve compiled a list of tried and tested methods to ensure you can build your levels of productivity in the workplace:
#1 Identify the important tasks and prioritise them
Most of us will have a to-do list, a mix-up of all the tasks on our radar that we need to complete. With everything on one extensive list, it’s easy to spend a day checking off simple, quick tasks rather than face those we’d rather avoid – even though these may be the most vital!
Choose 1-3 important tasks at the very beginning of the day as your MIT (most important tasks), these are the things that, no matter what, must be complete by the end of the day. With a renewed focus, it’s easier to create a meaningful structure and ensures vital tasks become a priority.
#2 Schedule deep work and keep to it
There are certain tasks we complete day-to-day that we could do with our eyes shut! But, on the other hand, there are those that require all your concentration to accomplish, they require a state of ‘deep work’. It’s a state many of us struggle to get into with distractions such as social media causing us to procrastinate for hours on end.
Those that work most successfully have mastered the art of deep work. The key is to identify how you work best – be this in isolation, with periodic breaks or in the morning. If you can schedule a time to deep work, and ensure you stick to this period avoiding major distractions you are pathing the route to productivity.
#3 Get better at saying ‘no’ and reduce inefficient communication
It’s tempting to always say yes, but taking on additional commitments when you are already operating at maximum capacity can see you completing only low-value tasks to a low standard.
Those that are truly productive, can say no – and furthermore, they reduce inefficient communication. An email will not provide the answer to an important question immediately, so by picking up the phone or taking initiative you can majorly increase your productivity in the workplace.
#4 Take breaks and recharge
It may sound obvious! But, how many of us sit down at a desk for hours at a time? Do you find your mind starting to wonder, or an inability to concentrate on the task at hand?
It’s recommended we take a break once every 55 minutes, for at least 5 minutes to allow us to resharpen our focus. Taking a break will recharge your batteries, and walking away may even bring you a new perspective on a task if are struggling to overcome a certain obstacle.
So, the notion that work expands to fill time available – is it true?
Whilst it’s difficult to truly say, our inefficiency in the workplace is a hurdle many of us struggle to face. Procrastination has become a normal part of our days, and though a shorter day may not be the answer for everyone, learning how to maximise your efficiency is vital to success – both as an individual and for your company. Whilst those that have mastered this may seem like robots, we can all take small simple steps to improve our concentration and thereby, ensure we complete tasks to a high level, consistently before deadline panics kick in.
- Be proactive
- Make smart, meaningful to-do lists
- Take care of your wellbeing
- And, know when to ask for support
Are you looking to transform the way your business operates? Need advice on how to best utilise the resources available to you and reach your full potential? Chrysalis Partners can help, we have the knowledge and experience, with a proven track record of successfully improving a business. Want to know how we did it? Get in touch today at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete this contact form and I’ll be happy to discuss how we can help you.