Retire Early with Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson's Law Retire Early



“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”



A dude named Cyril Parkinson wrote this phrase in the opening sentence of an essay published in 1955. (Original article here)


From what I gather, Parkinson was basically making fun of the government for wasting time and money. He mathematically proved that various sections of public administration were not running as efficient as they could. Rising costs, headcounts, and taxes far exceeded the amount of actual “work” that needed to be done.


It’s not just the government… In some way or another, Everyone is inefficient. In most cases, it’s subconscious, and we do things because “that’s the way it’s always been done”.


Parkinsons Law Time Allowed


Let’s Break Parkinsons Law Down Further:


There are 2 factors in Parkinsons Law. Work and Time.


Work = Stuff in life we need to get done.

Time = The time we get the stuff done in.


Work we usually have no control over. We all have basic chores in life, we get given tasks/assignments at work, or we create work for ourselves.


Time on the other hand we have 100% control over. Nobody owns you. Nobody owns your time. You get to decide how much time you spend on doing the work. You can choose whether it’s a short time or a long time.


A Quick Example:


Sally is an office clerk who does pretty much the same stuff at work every day. Record keeping, accounting, and some basic admin tasks.


On Monday:


Sally arrives at her office at 9am and she has 10 tasks to do before going home. She works throughout the day, gets her 10 tasks done, and finishes around 5pm right about the same time all her co-workers are leaving the office also.


It takes Sally 8 hours to get 10 tasks done.


On Tuesday:

Beast Mode

Sally arrives at the office at 9am as usual with 10 pending tasks to do that day. But that morning she receives a surprise text message from her best friend who is visiting from out of town for 1 day only. The friend asks Sally if she can get off work early to grab lunch, go shopping, and catch a movie.


Sally really wants to get off work early to hang with her friend, but knows her boss won’t let her leave until she’s completed her 10 tasks. Suddenly motivated, Sally applies extreme focus to absolutely crush her 10 tasks. As a result, she finishes all her work before 12 noon, and gets to leave early to hang with her friend.


It took Sally only 3 hours to complete the same 10 tasks. A HUGE reduction from 8 hours the prior day.


How Did She Do That?


Sally compared her activities from both days and noticed a few major differences she did on Tuesday:


  1. First of all, Sally eliminated distractions to focus on her 10 tasks only. When her coworkers stopped by her desk to share stories, Sally politely told them she was busy and would catch up with them another time.
  2. Sally constantly looked at the clock while she worked. She really wanted to get off work by 12 noon and kept exact track of her time. The ticking clock motivated her.
  3. Sally re-ordered her tasks to tackle the hardest ones first. She also worked on only 1 task at a time until it was complete, then moved to the next.


What has this got to do with Early Retirement?


If we zoom out and look at “work” from a whole career perspective, most people just “do what everyone else is doing”. Careers are supposed to be 40 years long, so we allow them to be 40 years long.


If we truly believe that time is 100% within our control, we can choose how long we want our career to be.


5 years, 10 years, 50 years… Ultimately, whatever you want it to be, it will be.


Parkinson's Law on Time


Final Notes:


Work is not the enemy. We all have work. And work has to be done. In the example above, Sally has the exact same amount of work as everyone else in life. 


Time is in your control. You get to choose how to spend it. In the example above, Sally has the exact same amount of time as everyone else in life.


Don’t agree that you have 100% control over your time? Please write your excuses comments in the box below.  🙂


Related post: Pay Yourself First: Money, Time, and Life!

9 thoughts on “Retire Early with Parkinson’s Law

  • I love this. I don’t check email except for some time in the morning and before I leave for the day. I never reply first on a group email, and usually the problem fixed itself…

    • That’s awesome. Email is one of the biggest time sucks today. Ever heard of Inbox Zero? I should write another blog post just on that.

  • Taking control of my time, time management, delegation, and optimization have all been stuff that I have been working on recently and feel like I haven’t gotten much accomplished. A common phrase I say is that I do not have enough time to get everything I want or have to get done. It’s definitely a work in progress.

    • You may feel that way. But dude, from the outside, it appears as if you’re killing it. Ahead of 99% of the others. Keep up the good work.

  • @5amJoel:

    Long time listener, first time caller. I just wanted to let you know that I found this article extremely pointed topic and well thought out and researched with Parkinson’s law. Countless books have been written on Time Management in the last 50 years but I was surprised to see that this gentleman, born in the early 1900’s, had such a clear grasp of the issues we still face today. Even more so considering the technological world we live in today.

    Great piece man, please keep up the interesting posts!

    • Cheers Jason. Thanks for reading and if you’ve got any related book recommendations for me on time management, I’m all ears!
      Thanks! Joel

  • Nice post, my excuse is that when I get bored and have little to do at work, I tend to BS a bit and make that “work” last longer so it looks like I’m busy doing “work” longer when really I’m just texting or surfing the internet.

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