When Parkinson’s Law isn’t enough

by | Mar 16, 2022 | Entrepreneurship

Maternity leave has always stress tested my business.

This is amazing – I learn a lot and am forced to make progress quickly that I otherwise might try to tiptoe into.

During my most recent maternity leave, I learned a lot about the power of Parkinson’s Law – the idea that work expands to fill the space we give it.

I tried to ramp down my workload so my hours could follow, and it didn’t work. I had to cut my hours so the workload could follow. Turns out, that worked.

You might be saying: all well and good. But you can’t possibly cut your hours in half while still magically getting the same amount of things done.

And you’re right. I do fewer things now.

The important thing is that my business is still strong.

Cutting my hours was an important first step, but others followed. Here were the three biggest ones:

I elevated my team

Last year, Jennifer and I attended a lot of client and sales calls together. Now, she owns entire sections of our core service offering. I handle very little of that work and focus mainly on one-on-one systems strategy. We only overlap when it is absolutely necessary.

For me, the higher level I delegate, the easier it is for me to stay out of it. If I ask Jennifer to create a single document, I’m going to be tempted to get in there and fiddle with the wording and formatting. If I ask her to take care of an entire client relationship, I can confidently leave it to her. I’m not sure if everyone’s this way, but it’s really changed the game in how I delegate.

I changed my approach to calls

Being much more ruthless about my call schedule has had an impact far beyond the actual time I spent on those calls. For every call, no matter how short, a few things have to happen – keeping an eye on the clock, being ‘video ready’, stopping what I’m working on even when I’m in the flow, preparing for the conversation, and wrapping up after the conversation. And then there are the calls that run long or turn into homework.

Relationships matter a lot to me, but the world won’t end because I have to plan a virtual coffee three weeks in advance or send someone a video instead of scheduling a call. I can find other ways to connect. Meanwhile, Jennifer is taking care of almost all of our potential clients. I used to spend an average of 15 hours every week just on calls, so drastic changes were definitely necessary here.

I expanded my understanding of how long things will take

As a business owner, most of my deadlines are self-imposed. I tell clients when I’ll be sending a deliverable to them, and I plan a group of projects every six weeks. I’ve been changing my habits about what I promise to myself or to others – if I normally would plan for something to take one week, now I plan for it to take two. When I’m planning out my week, I plan for one main task per day beyond my recurring projects.

I’m not going to lie to you – this type of planning can feel disappointing when I look at the coming week and think “that’s it?” But guess what…I felt exactly that way when I worked more hours, too. I’m constantly reminding myself that there is no such thing as pushing hard enough to do all the things, because the harder I push, the more lands on my plate. There is no bottom to this barrel, so I’m not going to try to reach it.

I’ll keep tweaking and trying things as I go – it’s a never ending journey. But if you’re wanting to work a little less each week, I hope these strategies can help you get there too.