Cyril Parkinson: Philosopher of Time Management

1955: The Economist publishes Cyril Parkinson’s theorem on time management.
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1955 The Economist publishes Cyril Parkinson’s theorem on time management.

“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This adage, written in 1955 by historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, captured a feeling both modern and timeless and came to be known as Parkinson’s Law. It spawned a best-selling 1958 book and has for decades inspired life-hackers and self-help gurus aiming to vanquish the human tendency toward anxiety-producing, productivity-squelching procrastination. “A task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion,” wrote Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, appropriating the idea 49 years later. The solution? Set urgent deadlines, program your Pomodoro stopwatches, and stick to the program. No dillydallying, and no toiling over inconsequential details. (Like explaining the Pomodoro technique; look it up on Wikipedia.) Mustering mental discipline is, of course, challenging, especially now that smartphones and e-mail make it easy to second-guess, edit, and retouch work from anywhere at any hour. I’d rewrite this a few more times, but my deadline has arrived.

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