Parkinson's Law: Insights for Today's Startups

In startups, time is often the most scarce and valuable resource. Yet, managing it effectively remains a challenge for many entrepreneurs. This is where Parkinson's Law comes into play—a principle that offers profound insights into how work expands to fill the time available for completion. Understanding and applying this law can significantly enhance productivity and efficiency in any startup environment.

What is Parkinson's Law?

Parkinson's Law originates from an essay written by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955, which appeared in "The Economist".

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. - Cyril Northcote Parkinson

Parkinson, a British historian and author, observed this pattern initially in the British Civil Service. As bureaucracies expanded, he noticed that officials did more work for each other, regardless of the need for more labor. This observation has since been generalized to describe organizations' inefficiency and time management.

The Three Rules of Parkinson's Law and Their Explanation

1. Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

This is the core idea of Parkinson's Law. If a task is scheduled to be completed in a week, it will take a week, even if it could have been accomplished in a day. Time availability encourages a slower pace and often leads to complexities that aren't necessarily required.

2. Expenditure rises to meet income.

Parkinson also noted that as an organization's budget increases, its expenses rise to consume the available income. This reflects a broader principle that resources, unless carefully managed, tend to be fully utilized regardless of necessity, leading to inefficiency.

3. The number of people in a bureaucracy increases regardless of the work amount.

Many organizations tend to add more staff over time, even if the volume of work does not justify the increase. This rule highlights the inefficiencies related to staffing and the management challenges it brings about.

What Can We Learn from Parkinson's Law for Today's Startups?

Prioritize Time Management

Recognizing that tasks can become unnecessarily prolonged is vital for startups, where agility and quick decision-making are pivotal. By setting stricter deadlines, startups can maintain momentum and avoid letting work expand unnecessarily. This encourages a culture of meeting goals and deadlines effectively and efficiently.

Emphasize Lean Operations

Startups should heed the warning against unnecessary workforce expansion and expenditures. Keeping operations lean means being wary of hiring more personnel than necessary or overspending, especially in the early stages. Effective resource management ensures that a startup remains agile and cost-effective.

Foster a Culture of Efficiency

Understanding Parkinson's Law helps foster a culture where efficiency is valued over mere presence or activity. Encouraging employees to achieve objectives faster and rewarding them for early completion can lead to a more productive and engaged team.

Continual Reevaluation

Regularly revisiting and assessing the necessity and efficiency of processes, staffing, and expenditures can prevent the complacency that comes with unchecked expansions. This reevaluation ensures that the company only scales when essential and resources are utilized optimally.


Even as a mentor and coach who is deeply familiar with productivity principles, I sometimes feel the pull of Parkinson’s Law in my work. It’s a continuous effort to remain productive, focused, and efficient. For all of us in the dynamic world of startups, recognizing and counteracting Parkinson’s Law isn’t just an exercise in efficiency—it’s a fundamental part of how we can lead our projects and teams toward success in a competitive landscape.