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Archive for July, 2008

If Only There Were More Hours in the Day

When you have a project, does it tend to grow or shrink to fit into the window of time you actually have available to do it? Project Managers: have you ever seen a project finish under the projected time allotted for the work? Rarely. Software engineers: What happens when there is not a definitive due date? The project expands infinitely, right?

Is it procrastination? Maybe a lack of planning? Demanding timelines? Unrealistic expectations? What about limited resources?

Nope. It’s a phenomenon called Parkinson’s Law. No, not the degenerative disorder of the nervous system. The Parkinson’s that I’m talking about was defined way back in the 1950s by an Englishman named C. Northcote Parkinson.

A true cynicist, Parkinson said, “work will fill the time available for its completion.” More generally, Parkinson’s Law says: “The demand upon a resource always expands to match the supply of the resource.”

Side Note: Have you noticed the reverse is not true?

There are several corollaries to Parkinson’s Law:

  • Data expands to fill the space available for storage.
  • Buying more memory encourages the use of more memory-intensive processes.

I’m going to venture to say that Parkinson’s Law impacts every single one of us.

  • Do you have a problem with space? Did you get a larger desk or office because you “needed more room”, only to find that you’ve now managed to fill up the new, larger space?
  • Do the items on your To-Do list get crossed off? No matter how much your list grows, responsibility and diligence help you get it all done… eventually.
  • Does your bank account balance get really frustrated with you sometimes? As an individual’s income rises, their costs of living and lifestyle increases to meet their income level.

So, victims of Parkinson’s Law, how do we get around it? Feel free to share your suggestions using the comments funciton. Here are a couple of mine:

  • Manage your time: try working with a kitchen timer. Studies show that 48 minutes is a good increment of time for completing a wide variety of tasks. Set your timer, get to work, and don’t stop until it dings. You’ll love the results.
  • Manage your space: try thinking smaller. If you’re going to fill it to the gills regardless of size, maybe a smaller desk or bookshelf will cut down on the number of things gathering dust. At home, replace your sports equipment closet with a Wii.
  • Manage your money: pay yourself first. Set up automatic transfers to your savings account on payday. If you can’t see the money, you can’t spend it, right?
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Categories: time management

The Reluctant Leader (Blog Post from LeadStar)

The Reluctant Leader
by Angie, LeadStar On Our Minds

My parents had a huge family 4th of July picnic at their home in Northern Michigan. Since they live on a lake and have tons of water toys, aunts, uncles and cousins flock to their house so they can swim, water ski, and go for pontoon rides.

It was great being with my family this holiday, especially seeing all the toddlers and preschoolers splashing around in the water. Though the water was chilly, the kids didn’t mind. I, however, did. I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to cold water and on that day I had no intention of getting wet. That was, of course, until my younger cousins wanted to go water skiing and needed someone to help them out.

Ugh. I knew this was a moment when I was being called upon to lead – this was my opportunity to influence outcomes and inspire others. I’d have to get wet and walk in the freezing water past my ankles and I didn’t want to do it. I asked a few of my cousins if Jenni (my sister) wanted to help them. (Leaders do delegate, after all.) Nope. They wanted they wanted their “Aunt Angie” to do it.

In a moment I analyzed my choices:
I could say “no” and hope that someone else would help them.
I could say “yes” and help them water ski for the first time.

What I wanted to do and what I actually did were two very different things.

As I pushed past the pain and walked into the water, and then succeeded at getting my cousins up on water skies, I suddenly thought less about me and started rejoicing in their success. After all the kids had their chance to ski, I swam back to shore to share in my cousins’ enthusiasm.

This all reminded me that being a leader is often about choice, selflessness and can require some discomfort. But the joys of leadership are great when compared against the alternative. The alternative keeps you inside your comfort zone and limits your life experiences. Being a leader allows you to get beyond yourself and create positive experiences that will make a lasting impression on your life.

So the morale of this story is simple: the next time an opportunity comes across your plate and you immediately think “no way,” give the idea a second thought. You never know what you’re turning down until you challenge yourself to explore what’s in front of you.

Categories: leadership