Parkinson's Law, How to Read, & More
Today at a Glance
- Question: Antelope or field mice?
- Quote: Control your reaction.
- Framework: Parkinson's Law.
- Tweet: How to read.
- Article: The trap of the Boston Marathon.
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Question to establish focus:
Am I hunting antelope or field mice?
I came across this question from Tim Ferriss, who first heard it from American politician Newt Gingrich.
The idea is simple (but very powerful):
A lion is capable of hunting field mice, but the prize would not be sufficient reward for the energy required to do so. Instead, the lion must focus on the antelope, which do require considerable energy to hunt, but provide a sufficient reward.
In whatever you are pursuing, are you hunting antelope or field mice? Are you focusing on the big, weighty, important tasks that will provide sufficient reward for your energy? Or are you burning calories chasing the tiny wins that won't move the needle?
Ask yourself this question from time and time and use your answer to reset as necessary.
Always hunt antelope!
Quote on what you can control:
"I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value." - Hermann Hesse
You cannot control what happens, but you can control your reaction to it.
Framework for efficiency:
Parkinson's Law is the idea that work often expands to fill the time alotted for its completion.
It was first proposed by British author Cyril Northcote Parkinson in a satirical essay in The Economist in 1955. While this original piece was intended as a humorous critique of bureaucratic inefficiency, the principle is easily applied to a range of situations, from personal time management to large-scale projects.
The general insight probably rings true:
- Have all day to process email and you end up emailing for the entire day. Have 30 minutes to process email and you crank through your entire inbox in a blur.
- Have months to complete an assignment and you procrastinate and work slowly enough for the assignment to take months. Have two days to complete an assignment and you work efficiently and get it done.
Open timeframes run counter to our natural procrastinatory instincts! They lead to a lot of movement and very little progress—the "rocking horse" phenomenon of busy work culture.
We tend to be more efficient and productive when constraints come into play. We also tend to focus on the important when pressed for time (we hunt antelope, not mice!).
My advice: Leverage Parkinson's Law to make you more efficient in getting through the low-value, but necessary tasks in your professional life.
A few examples:
- Batch process email in 1-3 short, time constrained windows during the day. If you allow yourself to check your email throughout the day, you'll be plagued by attention residue and never get through your work. Condense the processing into short windows to become more efficient and avoid the negative cognitive impact of task-switching.
- Shorten standard meetings to 25 minutes. The tighter window makes participants more efficient (avoids "how about the weather" small talk) and gives you a 5-minute break to reset in between meetings.
- Work on big projects in 60-120 minute focus blocks. Get a simple focus app on your computer or phone and set the timer. Start at 60 minutes and work your way up. The time constraint will make you more efficient and the breaks in between will reset your mental energy.
Parkinson's Law is an important concept to internalize. Leverage its insight daily to make you a more efficient, focused, and healthy professional.
Tweet that will help your reading retention:
This is a cool read on...how to read. I doubt I'll ever fully convert to syntopical reading, but it does seem like a useful skill to hone for specific reading use cases (e.g. non-fiction research/study).
Article that will make you sweat:
After seeing the legendary Eliud Kipchoge humbled in his first Boston Marathon a few weeks ago, I went down the rabbit hole on what makes the course so damn difficult.
This was a quick, interesting read on the challenges of one of the most historic marathons in the world (and my hometown race!).