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55. Parkinson's Laws - In Everyday's Life of Business and Society

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

What is Parkinson's Law ?

Parkinson's Law is the adage that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".

It is sometimes applied to the growth of bureaucracy in an organization.

I. History

Articulated by Cyril Northcote Parkinson as part of the first sentence of an essay published in The Economist in 1955 and since republished online, it was reprinted with other essays in the book Parkinson's Law: The Pursuit of Progress (London, John Murray, 1958). He derived the dictum from his extensive experience in the British Civil Service.

A current form of the law is not the one to which Parkinson referred by that name in the article, but rather a mathematical equation describing the rate at which bureaucracies expand over time.

Much of the essay is dedicated to a summary of purportedly scientific observations supporting the law, such as the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office while the British Empire declined ( he showed that it had its greatest number of staff when it was folded into the Foreign Office due to a lack of colonies to administer). He explained this growth using two forces:

(1) "An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals," and

"Officials make work for each other." He noted that the number employed in a bureaucracy rose by 5–7% per year " irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any ) to be done."

Parkinson's Law was translated into many languages. It was highly popular in the Soviet Union and its sphere of influence. In 1986, Alessandro Natta complained about the swelling bureaucracy in Italy. Mikhail Gorbachev responded that "Parkinson's law works everywhere."

II. Corollaries - In work in Society and Business

Work complicates to fill the available time.

The first-referenced meaning of the law has dominated, and sprouted several corollaries, the best known being the Stock–Sanford[who?] corollary to Parkinson's law:

If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.

Other corollaries include Horstman's corollary to Parkinson's law:

Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.

the Asimov corollary to Parkinson's law:

In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day.

as well as corollaries relating to computers, such as:

Data expands to fill the space available for storage.

III. Generalization

The law can be generalized further as:

The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource (If the price is zero).

An extension is often added:

The reverse is not true.

This generalization has come to resemble what some economists regard as the law of demand – namely, the lower the price of a service or commodity, the greater the quantity demanded. This is also referred to as induced demand.

Someone [who?] defined the law in regard to time as:

The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.

Parkinson's law is the tendency for the amount of work required for something to increase so that it consumes any amount of time that may be allotted to it. The concept is often generalized to refer to the tendency for any available capacity in a given system to be used.  The implication is that no matter how extensive your resources, the demands on them will grow to ensure they're depleted. Parkinson's law has implications for many areas of business, including project management, time management, resource allocation, storage capacity planning and requirements analysis.

Here are a few examples of Parkinson's law in various contexts of Business :

  • Applications will usually consume all available bandwidth.

  • The volume of data tends to grow to fill storage capacity.

  • Project requirements typically increase to the extent that resources are fully used up.

  • Software expands to use up system memory.

  • Financial outlay will increase to exhaust any usable budget

Horstman's corollary to Parkinson's law maintains the converse, the less commonly observed phenomenon that work contracts to fit within the time allocated for it. Another less familiar principle,

refers to people's tendency to devote a large amount of time to unimportant details , while essential tasks are not getting the time they require.

IV. How to Reverse Parkinson's Laws and get better Results...

The common error people make is that they give themselves far too much time to achieve their goals. When this happens, Parkinson’s law sets in; which states that “Work usually expands to fill up the time allotted to it!”

You see, the way we make progress in life is by overqualifying for our current level and spilling over into the next. 

One of the best ways to do this is to ensure that time alloted to reach your goal is short enough to stretch you and cause the overflow. 

Once the goal is abundantly clear, focus on your targets (i.e. the activities to achieve the goals).

Develop a sense of urgency.

Develop a bias for action.

Do it now, and everyday until you over qualify for your current level and spill over into the next level (i.e. achievement of the goal). 

Get it done very quickly the first time even it it’s not perfect, the second edition will be better. That’s how we keep spilling over to our next levels ! 


In Nutshell, Bureaucracy creeps up in every sphere of life , whether in Business or Society consuming valuable resources and time, unless vigilantly controlled and brought back to normalcy with Eagle Eyes.

Its upto the Leaders in Business and Society to put the Checks and Balances in the System to ensure get maximum Efficiency and Better Results in given environment.

MM Rao

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