How to Limit the Effects of Parkinson’s Law

Ever find yourself scratching your head and wondering why something took as long as it did?  Stressed about completing a project by a looming deadline? It happens to everyone!  The official term is Parkinson’s Law. 

What is Parkinson’s Law?

“IT is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” – C. Northcote Parkinson, The Economist, November 19, 1955

BusinessDictionary.com explains the background of Parkinson’s Law in that workers will create enough work to keep themselves looking busy in order to justify their roles. 

“Observation that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion,” and that a sufficiently large bureaucracy will generate enough internal work to keep itself ‘busy’ and so justify its continued existence without commensurate output. Proposed in 1955 in jest by the UK political analyst and historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson (1909-93) while criticizing the British Admiralty (which was growing bigger while the number of sailors and ships under its care was going down). It is quoted more as a keen insight into the functioning of large organizations than as an empirical reality.”

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/Parkinson-s-Law.html

Business Dictionary

Who Needs This?

  • Those susceptible to analysis paralysis
  • Humans
  • Procrastinators

Does Parkinson’s Law Still Occur Today?

In modern terms, if you have four hours to complete a project, it will take you four hours to complete the project.  But if you had two hours to complete the same project, you would complete it in two hours. 

Think back to school where you might have had a couple weeks or a semester to write a paper.  Did you sit down the first day and write that paper?  Or did you wait until the last minute to get it done? 

Do you have a coworker that waits all day to start working and then about an hour before others plan on leaving for the day, your coworker starts to work?  Their questions and requests come in fast, half planned, and mostly require rework the following day. 

It is all frustrating. 

Is this Efficient and Cost Effective? 

Negative.  If employees or leaders are creating work for the sake of looking busy, the consumers paying the ultimate cost.  Consumers are not receiving the greatest value for their purchase. However, I do empathize and see why employers and leaders do it. 

On a personal level, you are likely causing yourself stress by always thinking about those projects that need to get done rather that enjoying the fact that you completed the projects.  You are spending more time than necessary to complete the work, leaving yourself wishing you could do more. 

Why Would you Want to Break this Habit?

Ever want to try a new project or adventure but you say that you do not have the time?  Years ago, I really wanted to get on a new and exciting project at work.  It required me to take on significant more work than I probably should have taken on, but I did it anyways.  By limiting my time spent on projects to the true amount of time it took to complete the projects, I was able to find “hidden” time to dedicate to the new project. 

Ever find yourself looking up at the clock and realizing you just spent three hours scrolling through social media?  You might have some “hidden” time to do more projects, tasks, and hobbies that you have always dreamed and hoped of happening but never thought was possible. 

Breaking or limiting the effects of Parkinson’s Law in your life will allow you to expand in other areas. 

How do you Break this Habit?

  • Power Hour – Take a list of tasks to be completed and set a timer for one hour.  When time is up, all your tasks should be complete.  For example, at work, you need to clean your desk off, respond to voicemails, and schedule a couple meetings.  At home, maybe you need to schedule a doctor’s appointment, plan your meals/grocery list for the next week, and clean a room.  You can certainly get these things done with laser focus in your power hour. 
  • Schedule Tasks – Maybe a task will/should take longer than an hour to complete.  Schedule a start and end time with possibly check points to ensure you are actively working on the task.  Have your next day schedule planned the day/night before. 
  • Create Rules – Require that you complete a task by a certain time each day or before you move on to something else. 
  • Avoid Time Sucks – Avoid time sucks in apps, emails, etc. first thing in the morning.  It is easy to get sucked down a hole of scrolling.  Simply make it a rule that you do no pick up your phone or check emails within an hour of waking up or getting to work. 
  • Have an Unavoidable End Time – Take your work to a coffee shop that closes at a certain time.  Schedule something fun to do after your task or work day helps with motivation. 

Looking for more information?  Check out the additional resources below. 

Additional Resources:


What Happens When the CFO asks a New Operations Manager a Finance Question?

What happens when the CFO asks a new operations manager a finance question? Congratulations you new operations manager!  You did it!  You got the promotion!  You are the new boss!  And now the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has just a few questions for you.  Where do you find the information to respond to the CFO? 

Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

Situation A – The Prepared New Operations Manager

In this situation, you were part of a clear succession planning and was looped into the CFO questioning long before taking on the new role.  Your predecessor took you to meetings, explained reports, and introduced to you to those within the company that can help you in your new role.   Your predecessor may have also suggested a class or two to help you improve skills.  You are well on your way to rocking your new role!

Situation B – The OH NO THE CFO JUST ASKED A QUESTION Operations Manager

Often the new operations manager is fantastic at their trade, knows the hands on how to, and gets the staffing well but only sort of gets the finance piece.   Your predecessor either did not think of succession planning or is no longer with your organization.  Either way, here you are.  You have an email from the CFO with just a few questions. 

What You Need to Know:

If you are the new operations manager, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Learn the basics to budgeting:  Regardless if your company does annual, quarterly, or rolling budgets, you need to know how your budget was built, what inputs you have control of, and where you can go to monitor your actual performance against the budget.  Think about your personal finances.  It is highly recommended that you spend less than what you make.  Operating in the red or negative might be ok for the short term but it is not sustainable in personal finances or business finances.   
  • Ask for someone to review systems with you one on one:  Most companies have some type of finance system that operations managers have access to on a regular basis.  Once you become familiar with what information resides in the system and how to access it, your role as an operations manager will be a little easier.  I strongly suggest looking for a how-to class within your company or asking a member of the finance team to sit with you one on one at your computer to learn the system. 
  • Income Statement, Profit and Loss Statement, P&L Statement, Statement of Earnings, Statement of Operations:  It’s all the same thing.  Each person and company may call this report  by a different name, but this report is the holy grail of reports.  You need to know how much revenue you are generating and how much you are spending in expenses.  This is the report for you to catch billing issues.  For example, did you sell 100 widgets but only have the revenue from selling 10 widgets?  This report will also show you where you are spending money and how much.  Be sure to check your expenses monthly, sometimes something could accidently be charged incorrectly to your department. 
  • Productivity:  If your department is held to productivity standards, you need to learn the ins and outs of what and how each action and hour is counted. 
  • Here are some questions you should be asking:
    • What are the benchmarks? Is your department benchmark in minutes or widget?
    • Where did the benchmarks come from?  Are the benchmarks sourced from a national association?  Do your benchmarks change?  If so, how often will they change?
    • What actions are considered productive vs. which actions are considered non-productive?  Do are all steps in the widget making process counted? 
    • When are hours considered productive vs. when are hours considered non-productive?  For example, does vacation or FMLA count as productive or non-productive?  What about training and education? 

If you are an operations manager, what is one tip you would give to a new operations manager? 

“If you’re in a bad situation, don’t worry it’ll change. If you’re in a good situation, don’t worry it’ll change.”

John A. Simone, Sr.

My Favorite Books from 2019

Earlier this year I set out to read 25 books.  By May, I met my goal.  I mostly replaced TV watching and social media with books.  You could say I previously spent a lot of time on social media and binge watching HGTV.  Over the past couple years and a push from not wanting to show up to book club without completing a single book in the month, I changed my inner dialogue from “I don’t have enough time to read a book” to “I have enough time to do things that are important to me.”  That change had a significant impact to not only how much I read but how I spent my free time. 

I am writing this article mid-December and I have read 57 books so far with a new goal of reading 60 books in a single year.  After going through my Goodreads list, I found a couple themes.  In no particular order, here are my favorite books from 2019. 

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Wondering how to get all of the things done?  Or do they really need to be done?

  • Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day by Ken Mogi
  • No F*cks Given Guide series by Sarah Knight
  • Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary
  • The Joy of Missing Out: Live More by Doing Less by Tonya Dalton

Do you have a messy closet or desk at work?  Or simply can’t find your keys?

  • Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff by Myquillyn Smith
  • Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki, Eriko Sugita (Translator)
  • Less: A Visual Guide to Minimalism by Rachel Aust
  • Make Space: A Minimalist’s Guide to the Good and the Extraordinary by Regina Wong
  • Outer Order | Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin
  • The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life by Francine Jay
  • The More of Less and the Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

Looking to change your inner dialogue?  Or wondering if that story you have been playing in your mind is even true?

  • Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder by Reshma Saujani
  • Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis
  • How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment—The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life by Sophie Hannah
  • Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I am One.  by Ginger Zee
  • Super Attractor by Gabrielle Bernstein
  • You are a Badass series by Jen Sincero

Trying to break up with technology?

  • Destination: Simple – Rituals and Rhythms for a Simpler Daily Life by Brooke McAlary
  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
  • How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price
  • Lightly: How to Live a Simple, Serene, and Stress-free Life by Francine Jay

Looking to change your relationship with the environment?

  • The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
  • Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson

Swear life is easier in other countries? 

  • American Cozy: Hygge-Inspired Ways to Create Comfort Happiness by Stephanie Pedersen
  • Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well by Lola Akinmade Åkerström
  • Sisu by Joanna Nylund
  • The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People by Meik Wiking

Just want to unwind with a fun book?

  • Because I Said So! : The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings
  • Hey Ladies!: The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way Too Many Emails by Michelle Markowitz, Caroline Moss, Carolyn Bahar
  • No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen
  • Seven at Sea: Why a New York City Family Cast Off Convention for a Life-Changing Year on a Sailboat by Erik Orton and Emily Orton
  • When Life Gives you Luluemons by Lauren Weisberger
  • The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Love to solve crimes in your free time?

  • Backlash by Brad Thor *ANY BOOK BY BRAD THOR*
  • I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank the Irishman Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa by Charles Brandt
  • Sara Booth Delaney mystery series by Carolyn Haines

Did you read any of the books on my list?  What did you think?  Any books I should add to my list to read in 2020?

Triple Dog Dare You to Put Down Your Phone

‘Tis the season for holiday parties, presents, and get togethers of all kinds.  I am here today to talk about being present.  Literally putting down your phone in meetings, at dinners, and around others.  Give others your time and attention. 

In case this concept is foreign or seems a little too woo-woo, let’s quickly define it with some examples. 

“Being fully present means having your focus, your attention, your thoughts and feelings all fixed on the task at hand. If you are speaking to somebody, then your attention and energy is focused on him or her and what he or she is saying. If you are doing a task, then your entire being is focused on the task.”

Personal Resilience Builder

Before we get further into the details, lets reminisce on the best holiday movie of all time, The Christmas Story.  And don’t disagree with me you filthy animal!  Yes, I am serious Clark!  Ok maybe there is a three-way tie for best holiday movie of all time. 

Flick: Are you kidding? Stick my tongue to that stupid pole? That’s dumb!

Schwartz: That’s ’cause you know it’ll stick!

Flick: You’re full of it!

Schwartz: Oh yeah?

Flick: Yeah!

Schwartz: Well I double-DOG-dare ya!

Ralphie as an Adult: [narrating]  NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare you”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.

Schwartz: I TRIPLE-dog-dare ya!

Ralphie as an Adult: [narrating]  Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat!

We are all adults that know that our tongues will stick to that stupid flag pole, so we just don’t do it.  What if I were to modernize this dialogue and talk about your cell phone?

You:  Are you kidding?  Leave my phone at my desk during a meeting?  That’s dumb!

Me:  That’s ‘cause you know you can’t do it!

You:  You are nuts!

Me:  Oh yeah?

You:  Yeah!

Me:  I triple dog dare you to leave your phone behind!

I bring this up because often in meetings there is a delay in responding, a retelling of the issue because someone was looking at their phone rather than paying attention.  Eyes roll.  Frustrations build.  And another wasted, drawn out meeting continues.  All in the name of scrolling through Facebook and checking emails.  Yes, I have witnessed meeting attendees looking through Facebook during a meeting that they scheduled. 

Look I get it.  In the wise words of Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism, “we didn’t sign up for this.” We didn’t sign up to be tethered to our phones.  We didn’t sign up to jump at every beep, ding, or buzz.  We didn’t sign up to be constantly in contact with the world.  We weren’t supposed to be like the dogs in Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment with the bell. 

Yet here we are.  Jumping at every beep, ding, and buzz.  Wondering how many likes we got on a picture or post, worrying if we are missing an important email, or even worse worrying if we are taking too long to respond to a text message.   The fear of missing out is a real thing, until you change your relationship with your cell phone.  It takes time.  It is hard.  Very hard.  But start small for the holidays. 

  • Can you find one meeting a week to leave your phone behind?
  • Can you go for a walk without your phone?
  • How about a meal without your phone?

I am going to leave you today with a triple dog dare challenge.  I triple dog dare you to see how long you can go without looking at your phone.  Comment below with your results. 

“Yeah hey, they say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine”

Prince

1999 Cell Phone:

Looking for more resources?  Check out the following books:

  • Cal Newport – Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
  • Brooke McAlery – Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World
  • Marie Kondo – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Looking for articles?

Excel: Tips and Tricks for Pivot Tables

Congratulations!  You did it!  You built a pivot table that didn’t blow up.  Now you are looking at the pivot table and wondering if Excel could get the pivot table to calculate a field or if you could stop Excel from splitting a date into pieces and list just the date.  The answer it YES EXCEL CAN and it can do even more! 

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

RefresherHow to Build Pivot Tables and Charts

Issue #1:  Calculating a field within a pivot table

When to use it:  Say you have a revenue field and a total invoice field, and you wanted to calculate the collection percent by customer number as well as show their total amounts ordered and paid.  You suspect some customers have a history of taking longer to pay.  The formula you would use is revenue divided by total invoice. You want Excel to do all the work.  SMART MOVE PRO!

How to do it:

  1. Build the pivot table to show customer number in the row box with invoice amount and payment received fields in the valules box.  Your pivot table should look like this.
  1. Under the “Analyze” banner select “Fields, Items, & Set” and then “Calculated Fields”.
  1. This is what pops up initially.  You have the ability to call your calculated field anything you want to as well as build the formula. 

Pro Tip:  I suggest that you name the field and include a short description.  After being asked in a couple of meetings how a field was calculated, I decided to always add in a short description in the field name.  Leaves the guess work and panic out of the meeting. 

  1. When you build the formula, remove the 0 and then double click on the field names as you build your formula.  Excel needs to keep those apostrophes.  Here is what it should look like.
  1. Click add and then ok.  You should see your new field listed to the right in the PivotTable Fields banner. 
  1. Excel took the liberty of adding that field right into the values box and summed up the collection percentages in a currency format.  This is an easy fix.  Right click anywhere in the “Sum of Collection % (Payments/Order)” column and select number formatting.  Select the percentage option. 
  1. Click ok and check out your new calculated field. 

Pro Tip:  Double check that the math works out the way that it should. 

Bonus Pro Tip:  Rename all of your field headers.  If you want to rename a field header to its exact name, simply add a space before or after the name.  Excel does not allow you to keep it exactly to what is listed in the PivotTable Fields banner. 

Issue #2:  Stop Excel from splitting the date into pieces

When to use it:  Any time you need to insert a date into a pivot table and Excel breaks it into pieces like quarter, month, etc. 

How to do it:  This part is very easy to fix! Right click on the quarter or month and select ungroup.  You just nailed it!

Issue #3:   Conditional Formatting in a Pivot Table

When to use it:  After you calculated the collection percentages in Issue #1, you decided that adding a red highlight to those customers that paid less than 80% of their total invoices would stand out better.  It would also help others see the point quicker. 

Pro Tip:  Just like pyrotechnics in movies and shows add drama, so do colors on pivot tables and charts.  Think about the message you are trying to convey.  Remember the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. 

How to do it:

  1. Highlight the area of the pivot table you want to add in the conditional formatting to.  For this example, let’s highlight the collection percentages.
  2. Under the “Home” banner select “Conditional Formatting” then “Highlight Cells Rules” and then “Less than.”
  1. Type in 80%.  You might recall back in high school math that 80% equals 0.80.  Excel uses 0.80 in this section or 80%.
  1. Click ok and show off your new pivot table.   Looks like there are some issues with collection payments. 

Value what you do and add value by what you do.

Healthcare Provider

Excel: How Do I Break This Cell Apart?

Have you ever opened an Excel file just to find all the data in a single column?  Excel’s Text to Columns function will save you tremendous amounts of time by doing the hard work for you.  It breaks apart data into individual columns. 

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Text to Columns:

When to Use it:  Have you ever had a name and a date appear in the same cell and wish you could separate them?  Using the text to columns function will separate the name and date for you. 

How to Do It:

  1. Copy and paste the column into a new column.  This allows you to always maintain the original date just in case. 

Pro Tip:  Make sure you have enough columns to the right of the column you want to split apart.  If not excel will overwrite the data. 

  1. Highlight the column you want to split apart. 
  1. Click on the “Data” banner.  Click on “Text to Columns.”

DECISION TIME:

  • Delimited:  Do you want to spit the column based upon a character such as a comma, space, letter, symbol, etc?
  • Do you want to split the column apart based upon size?  Select this option if the data you want to separate is clearly lined up. 
  1. In this example, select delimited.  Click on the “other” and enter in the |.  Note this bar is located right below the backspace key.  Click “Finish.”
  1. Next, we need to repeat steps 2 to 4 because the Order Number and Order Amount are not separated.  Do not forget that there needs to be an extra column between G and I. Here is what it should look like before we split column G.
  1. Now type a hyphen in “other” and click finish. 

Common Oops: 

  1. The numbers in the split columns are not in the correct format.  Highlight the column and change the format.

Before:

After: 

Would you like a copy of the sample data? Connect with me!