Parkinson’s Law holds that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
(C. Northcote Parkinson also was the first to accurately describe the phenomenon of bike-shedding, a particularly nasty plague in the software industry.)
There are many ways to combat the effect that Parkinson’s Law has on your time and your stress level. One way, which my father-in-law Ron Rowe discovered when he led the J.W. Pepper company many years ago, was to reduce the time available to do the work. He did this by giving everyone thirty-two hours to do what had been their forty-hour jobs, except in the company’s two fairly short peak seasons. Salaries and everything else remained the same, there was just one less working day most weeks of the year. He found that Pepper staff got more work done in the 32 hours he gave them than they had in the 40 hours they worked previously.
I would love to pull off something like this with my team at Red Hat, but it would probably require more institutional buy-in than I could muster at this point. There are other ways to push a team to focus and get things finished though. One obvious one is to create a deadline, ideally one that will result in public shaming if it is not met. I’m fresh off giving a major presentation to 500 people at the company, and I was surprised how much work got done in advance of this simply because everyone knew we were going live.
But, deadlines were made to be broken. I find routine is really a much more powerful way to prioritize what you really want to do over the tyranny of the day to day. The more of my morning I can devote to working on the same things — that I want to work on — in the same order, the happier and more productive I feel. (This blog is a good example. I do it the same time every morning, because if I don’t, I won’t do it at all.)
Ultimately I think this is because decisions about what to do next take a ton of energy and effort and we get them wrong most of the time. The fewer decisions you have to make, the more effective you are… and routine takes away decisions.
I just wish I could find a few more hours in the morning for my routine… unless it is expanding to fill the time available?