Laws Of Productivity: Work Better, Not More - Agile Blog - Riter

Laws Of Productivity: Work Better, Not More

Each company is interested in increasing profits, but not everyone can effectively use the available resources for this purpose. Often, in order to do more work and get better results, management prefers to allocate more time and employees, instead of increasing productivity of available ones. However, this approach is knowingly false for a number of reasons.

Time management issues

Getting more work done

Let's look at different ways of increasing employee's productivity. How can a team cope with a larger scope of tasks? At first, it may seem that by adding the working hours, you can easily increase the scale of production or speed up the work process. This is easier than reviewing the workflow, optimizing working conditions, eliminating distractions, changing familiar methodologies and working principles. But over time, you notice that an increase in hours of work isn't always accompanied by the growth of productivity. Regardless of how much time you have allocated to the team, they still complete the task just by the deadline or even later. And not because they are all irresponsible or lazy, but because of the psychological phenomenon discovered in the last century.

It's known as the first Parkinson's law which says: "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion". This statement was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955 and is still actual. Based on empirical evidence, the author argued that regardless of the initial complexity of work, our perception of the task is modified in such a way that we can spend all available time on it, even if it significantly exceeds the required time for the work. In other words, if you give yourself a week to complete a one day task, then it will be increased in complexity (in your mind) to become difficult and frightening enough to fill the week. To this end, the brain will work less efficiently on this work, or you will be easily distracted by all possible secondary tasks, to delay this one.

Parkinson's law

In addition to the Parkinson's law, there're other issues with this solution. The more hours you spend on work, the more you get tired, and the less results your efforts bring. Fatigue accumulates, and certainly the number of tasks to be solved doesn't increase in proportion to the time spent on them. Don't forget about the Pareto's law: "20% of efforts bring 80% of success". This forces us to look for new ways to increase efficiency without overtime work and counteract the Parkinson's law.

Dealing with the Parkinson’s law

The Parkinson's law exists because we often allocate more time on simple tasks than we really need. We do it "just in case" to provide ourselves some buffer of time for unforeseen difficulties that may arise, or simply when we don't know how much the task actually takes time. As a result, each task takes more time than it really deserves. Following simple rules, you can significantly reduce this value:

  • Always assign time to each task. Before you begin to implement it, estimate the necessary work, taking into account all aspects.

  • Allocate to the task the minimum time necessary, not more. By assigning the right amount of time to a task, without its excessive increase "just in case", we reduce task in complexity to its natural state.

  • Set up own deadlines: after estimating a task, give yourself, for example, half of that time to complete it. You won't be always able to cope with such deadlines, but the proximity of an impromptu deadline will boost your productivity.

  • Divide complex tasks into subtasks, so they are easier to evaluate separately, and the presence of a lot of deadlines won't allow you to delay all the work until the last moment.

  • Focus on one current subtask, don't be distracted by secondary tasks and other things until you finish it.

Possible obstacles

There are situations when the law of Parkinson can't be circumvented. For simple and familiar tasks, these rules may work, but in some cases, severe restrictions are impossible and can frustrate the entire work schedule. Evaluation of tasks is a complex process, and even experienced employees mistake in this matter from time to time. Also, we shouldn't neglect the Murphy's law, taking into account unpredictability and possible issues with tasks.

In addition, many office employees may not rush to tasks when the deadline is far away. They understand that once they finish with the current task, they will immediately receive the next one, with even shorter terms. This does not apply to freelancers and remote workers who receive a reward for the result, not the time spent in the office. It is beneficial for them to do more tasks with greater productivity and in less time, which can't always be said about office workers.

Another obstacle may be the outdated look of some entrepreneurs who believe that quickly made work is necessarily worse. Though most employees are ready to deny the rule of "working more, not better", this is not always welcomed by the company's management. It's all the fault of such an established thought: "The longer the work is done, the higher the quality is".

Other ways to boost productivity

With this in mind, you can find other ways to increase your team's efficiency:

  • Reduce the number of interruptions, apply necessary measures to stop wasting time at work.

  • Distribute roles correctly, delegate tasks to right people. Let each employee do what exactly they're hiring for.

  • Use the available technologies, where it's profitable. Automate tasks, avoid unnecessary manual work.

  • Increase your own awareness. Continually learn about new ways that can help you in your work, learn new technologies, get additional skills and knowledge.

Riter development team