Wednesday, 27 May 2015

How To Be More Efficient At Tasks


A famous rule of thumb by Cyril Northcote Parkinson known as 'Parkinson's Law' says that: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". So if you have five hours to complete a fairly straightforward office task, the chances are you'll take longer, procrastinate more, and be more susceptible to distractions than if you only had ninety minutes in which to complete the same task. This is fairly obviously demonstrable in pretty much every office of every public sector organisation, where almost nobody makes the most efficient use of the time available to them. Of course, Parkinson's Law plays out in many areas of life too. If you have the whole day to write a 2,000 word essay or sort through your old clothes you are bound to take longer to do those tasks that if you only had an hour.

The main problem with the public sector is that the money being spent is not its own, it is taxpayers' money. Just as you're going to be less efficient with a superfluity of time, you're also going to be less efficient with money that's handed to you from the general public. When people's own money is not at stake they are less discerning about how it is spent - and time is money - so less efficient with their time too. Just as services like energy, water, steel, air travel, buses and railways can only become more efficient when rescued from the improficiencies of State control and given over to the price signals of the free market of supply and demand, with similar measure the services the State still provides can only become more bureaucratic and less efficient as they continue to expand their legislative protocols and their levels of middle management.

This is because a variation of Parkinson's Law applies to bureaucracies too - the more they expand and the more people there are involved in that expansion, the more they will make unnecessary, overly-complex and duplicated tasks for each other. Organisations are usually pyramid-like in their structure, with every departmental level in the public sector needing to operate in the best way to secure more public finances and, ultimately, justify their own roles in the organisation. In the private sector, however, there isn't the luxury of the reliable flow of taxpayers' money trickling down from central government - an organisation's efficacy rests on being an economically viable operation in the competitive market of supply and demand, where inefficiencies are far more rigorously weeded out, and where the dead wood of extraneous employees will be rendered expendable due to what the continuation of their roles will cost the shareholders whose profits and losses are conditioned by maximal efficiency.

* Incidentally, if you grabbed a round balloon and pressed on it at the top and bottom it would lose much of its height and gain lots in width. In the UK the State is doing something similar; it is getting shorter in the sense that comparably few of our goods and services are now public services (comparably - i.e. compared to, say, the 1950s), as the free market continues to gather more and more momentum and give greater exhibition to its efficiency; but it is getting wider in the sense that it continues to become more and more bureaucratic as well as smothering our liberty with more and more legislation and snooping into our daily lives.

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