Organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy puts a spin on Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The notion is simple:
- If you give yourself a year to do something, it will take a year.
- If you give yourself a month, it will take a month.
- If you give yourself a day, it will take a day.
Strategically applying Parkinson’s Law to your work is one of the easiest ways to cut the unnecessary “fat” in your projects. When you give yourself less time to do something, you’re forced to focus only on what will produce your desired result. The reduced time frame is a “forcing function,” a situational constraint that forces your desired results.
As an organizational psychologist, I’ve learned that you can use forcing functions not just to better manage your time, but also to make your entire life richer and more rewarding. To do this, start with a principle that’s related to Parkinson’s Law. Let’s call it the Human Expansion Law:
“Humans expand to fill the responsibility given.”
We often avoid making big decisions because we’re afraid of what will happen. But taking a leap into a new circumstance or role is the fastest way to learn and change.
Here are two ways this principle has played out in my own life:
- My wife and I never had kids before deciding to become foster parents to three children. The parenting growth curve was extreme, and our incompetence was revealed immediately. But we learned and adjusted quickly. Now we have five kids. Is life busy? Yes. Is it sometimes overwhelming? Yes. But have we adapted and are our lives better and fuller because of our decision? Without a doubt.
- When my financial adviser recommended I begin automatically investing a specific amount every week, I was nervous. The amount would definitely stretch our resources. But we quickly adapted to not having that money in our daily lives. And unexpectedly, my income almost immediately increased to replace the funds being invested.
Both of these examples have shown me that as a person, my ability to expand to my circumstances is far greater than I give myself credit for.
But how do you make these types of leaps? You can’t just jump off a cliff. All risks need to be calculated. I like to think about the “80% approach,” introduced by entrepreneurial coach Dan Sullivan. In this way of thinking, instead of obsessing over or “perfecting” your idea, you quickly get to 80% and then throw it out there. The feedback you’ll get will be the key to learning. It works the same with life decisions.
You don’t need to have it all figured out. You can never have it all figured out. You only need to know that you feel good about the decision — say, 80% good — and then you jump.
Eventually, you’ll start building up your confidence and adjust to your new circumstances. Your subconscious will catch up and you’ll find a new normal. Here’s what the process will look like:
As the image shows, when you first initiate a big change, the pressure and effort you’ll need to put in will be high. However, at some point, you will adapt to your new circumstances and things won’t feel as intense.
If you attempt to grow slowly, you won’t experience the full emotional effect of immediate and powerful feedback. You’ll slow your own progress. It’s better to drink from a fire hose and adjust the lever as you need. Will you experience a greater emotional shock? Yes. But over time, you build confidence and will be able to make decisions more quickly and easily.
There’s one more reason why this principle is so important: Life will feel just as difficult if you don’t choose to take chances. If I had not become the father of five, my life would still feel just as difficult. I’d have problems and responsibilities — they’d just look quite different. My life is richer now, but it also feels normal.
Your job is to continue upping the ante. As your sphere grows, so will you. What can you do today to begin expanding yourself? And what will you miss out on if you don’t?