Business Concepts - When simple tasks take far too long

Turtle on a rock
Fast or slow—it's Parkinson's law

When we have a tight deadline, most of us can finish a lot of work quickly. But if the deadline is far away, that same work takes much longer. Why is that?

It's called Parkinson's law: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

Imagine your friend is coming to your house for lunch, and you want to clean the house before they arrive. You can clean a lot in very little time! But, on the other hand, if you have the whole day off, cleaning up takes much longer. 

Big companies often struggle with this problem. Employees who are paid by the hour can take a very long time to do work that can be done much more efficiently. Some companies reward workers who stay late, even if their output is the same as employees who finish early.

On the other hand, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, famously pushed his employees to finish within very tight deadlines. He gave the original iPhone engineers just two weeks to provide a "software vision" for the company in early 2005. 

The concept was first written about by Cyril Northcote Parkinson as part of a humorous essay published in 1955. For more information, take a look at an article here

When discussing hourly work or efficiency, especially in interview tests like the G.B.C., it's a good idea to bring up the idea of Parkinson's law. For example: 

Some companies have employees who seem busy, but really, they are just taking a long time to do simple tasks. It's Parkinson's law—if you have a long time, then simple tasks will expand to fill that time. Instead, we need tight deadlines and high expectations. 

In your next lesson or English conversation, try to mention Parkinson's law.

Tight deadline [n] - a deadline that gives you a short time to finish your work
Parkinson's law [n] - if you have a long time, then simple tasks will expand to fill that time.