Parkinson’s Law: How to Get More Things Done by Giving Yourself Less Time to Do Them

Parkinsons Law

 

Parkinson’s law is the adage that work expands to fill the time which is available for its completion. In the following article, you will learn more about this concept, and about how understanding it can help you boost your productivity.

 

Explanation of Parkinson’s law

“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.”

Parkinson’s Law, in The Economist

Simply put, Parkinson’s law is the idea that the more time we decide to dedicate to a certain task, the longer it will us take to complete it, even if we could have gotten the task done just as well in a shorter period of time.

This phenomenon has been observed in a number of scientific studies, which show that when people are given extra time to complete a task, they will generally take advantage of that time, even if they don’t really need, and it doesn’t lead to better performance on the task.

Furthermore, this effect sometimes extends to subsequent attempts to perform the same task. That is, if someone is given extra time to perform a task the first time around, they will generally take longer than necessary to complete the task again in the future, even if you remove the explicit instructions giving them extra time.

Overall, what this research shows is that when people are given a task to perform, they often think in terms of “how much time do I have to complete it?”, without also considering “how much time do I need to complete it?”. This mindset causes people to waste time needlessly, by working in an inefficient manner.

 

Corollaries of Parkinson’s law

The underlying principle behind Parkinson’s law extends to other areas beyond personal productivity.

For example, researchers examining public management found that “contracting expands to consume the administrative resources available for its generation and management”. This means that just as people tend to take up as much time as they have available when they need to complete a task, contractors tend to use all the available resources that they can, regardless of whether they need them or not.

Similarly, other studies showed that the “the growth of bureaucratic or administrative bodies usually goes hand in hand with a drastic decrease of its overall efficiency”. Essentially, the more workers are allocated to perform certain tasks, the less efficient each of them becomes. This mirrors the previously discussed decrease in efficiency that accompanies an increase in the time allotted to a certain task.

Overall, we can summarize the most basic version of Parkinson’s law by saying that once resources are allocated to a specific task, we tend to use them even in cases where they are unnecessary.

Furthermore, when there are no strict constraints on the amount of resources that are being consumed (such as time and money), the general tendency is to try and increase the amount of resources that are allocated to each task, regardless of whether more resources are needed or not.

Taken together, these tendencies cause most people to work in an inefficient and wasteful way. By learning to account for Parkinson’s law, using the methods which we will see in the next section, you can learn to work more efficiently, and boost your productivity.

 

How understanding Parkinson’s Law can help you become more productive

To account for Parkinson’s law in your work, you need to start each task by identifying its scope, and trying to determine how much time it will realistically take to complete it.

That is, don’t ask yourself how much time you have to complete a task. Instead, ask yourself how much time it should realistically take you to complete that task, and do your best to complete your work within that timeframe.

You can accomplish this by using artificial time constraints, which research shows can lead to higher outputs. Each constraint will apply to a specific task. For short-term tasks, for example, you might use a timer with a set amount of minutes, while for long-term tasks you might choose to work with a date-based deadline.

If you end up seeing that more time is necessary, that’s fine. However, try to complete the task before the allotted time runs out, if it’s possible to do so without compromising the quality of your work.

Doing this ensures that you don’t fall into the trap of using extra time that you have when you don’t really need it. Of course, if you end up seeing that you need less time than you originally thought, try and finish the task early, rather than let it drag on.

 

Other applications of Parkinson’s law

While the examples which we saw so far focused on Parkinson’s law primarily under the context of how much time you should spend on tasks, the same considerations also apply to other resources, such as money and effort. This means that you shouldn’t just pour resources into a certain task just because they’re available, if there is no compelling reason to use them.

To avoid this pitfall, you should first ask yourself what beneficial outcomes you can expect to gain in return for the resources that you intend to invest. You want to make sure that the ratio between outcomes-gained to resources-used is good enough that it’s worth it for you to use these resources.

Similarly to when considering how much time you should spend on a certain task, the goal here is to ask yourself “what resources do I need in order to complete this task”, rather than just taking advantage of all the resources that you have, even when they’re not necessary.

In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that accounting for Parkinson’s law can also help you collaborate more effectively with other people. Specifically, you can use the techniques that you saw here in order to set goals and constraints in collaborative work, in a way that ensures that your workflow is as efficient as possible.

 

Apply with common sense

“If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”

Stock-Sanford corollary to Parkinson’s law

The key thing to remember when accounting for Parkinson’s law is that when choosing how much time or others resources to dedicate to a task, you should choose an amount which ensures that you don’t waste anything needlessly, but which simultaneously ensures that you don’t compromise the quality of your work.

That is, when accounting for Parkinson’s law, you should focus on setting realistic time/resource constraints, and making sure that you abide by them whenever possible. This is as opposed to doing things such as setting minimal time constraints, which will guarantee that you don’t spend too much time on each task, but which can result in subpar work.

For example, if you know that a certain task takes around 10 minutes to complete, you won’t be able to cram it into 2 minutes and still do a good job, and you shouldn’t try to either. Rather, your goal here should be to identify the fact that it takes about 10 minutes to complete the task, and set that as a time limit, to prevent yourself from wasting 30 minutes on it just because you can.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
  • This means that in general, the more time we decide to allocate to a certain task, the longer it will us take to complete it, even if that extra time is unnecessary.
  • This principle extends to other areas beyond personal time management. Essentially, research shows that once resources are allocated to a specific task, we tend to use them regardless of whether they are necessary or not.
  • To account for Parkinson’s law, set up realistic time/resource constraints before you start working on a task, and try to complete your work within that limit. It’s fine to adjust as you go along; this means that you can add extra time if necessary, or finish the task early if you see that it’s possible to do so.
  • Remember that it’s not just about trying to get the work done in the shortest amount of time possible. Rather, the goal of accounting for Parkinson’s law is to set up a frame which allows you to work efficiently and avoid wasting time, without compromising the overall quality of your work.

 


How People Flirt: A Scientific Guide

How People Flirt

 

Flirting is a key part of many social interactions. At the same time however, flirting is also a behavior that few people truly understand.

Fortunately, psychologists have conducted quite a bit of research on the topic of flirting. In the following article, you will learn about the different styles of flirting, including the verbal and nonverbal behaviors that people engage in, and about how you can use this knowledge in practice.

 

The five flirting styles

Research shows that people use five main styles of flirting, with each person displaying different levels of each style:

  • Physical– individuals with this flirting style feel comfortable expressing their desire through physical behavior. Consequently, they generally have an easy time signaling their attraction, and their behavior is often likely to be interpreted as sexual in nature.
  • Sincere– individuals with this flirting style focus on creating an emotional bond with their potential romantic partners. As such, they tend to develop intimacy early on in relationships, by eliciting self-disclosure, providing social support, and showing personal interest, generally in a romantic (but not necessarily sexual) manner.
  • Playful- individuals with this flirting style tend to flirt in a way that is playful and lighthearted. As such, they are generally not concerned with how others may interpret their behavior, and they often view flirting as a behavior that is inherently satisfying, even if it doesn’t lead to anything serious.
  • Traditional– individuals with this flirting style attempt to behave within the boundaries of traditional gender roles. As such, they expect the man to be the active initiator in the courtship process, and the woman to play a more passive role.
  • Polite- individuals with this flirting style use a relatively cautious approach to courtship. As such, they tend to avoid behaviors that could potentially be construed by others as inappropriate, aggressive, or needy.

Overall, the physical, sincere, and playful flirting styles are correlated with more dating success. Furthermore, the physical and sincere styles are correlated with a rapid escalation of relationships that involve a strong physical chemistry, and a powerful emotional connection.

Conversely, the traditional flirting style is associated with a difficulty in finding new romantic partners, and with a relatively slow rate of relational development once a partner has been found. Similarly, the polite style is associated with an interest in fewer potential partners, and with a lower degree of openness to flirtation.

Note: the majority of research on the topic focused on flirtation among heterosexual partners. Because of this, it contains some aspects which may not always translate directly to non-heterosexual relationships, such as the concept of the traditional flirting style.

 

Verbal and nonverbal flirting behaviors

In terms of flirting behavior, there are some generalizations that can be made regarding how people act when they are interested in someone:

  • In general, most men and women expect the man to initiate verbal contact in the courtship process.
  • Women, on the other hand, tend to signal receptiveness through nonverbal cues, such as prolonged eye contact.
  • However, though women tend to use eye contact to signal interest more frequently than men, both genders tend to exhibit flirtatious eye contact when they are attracted to the person they are flirting with, especially at the initial stages of the interaction.
  • When a woman is interested in someone, she tends to smile more while talking with him, particularly during the later stages of the interaction.
  • Before approaching a woman, men tend to make space-maximizing movements, such as extending their arms across adjacent chairs. At the same time, they also tend to minimize closed-body positions, such as crossing their arms and legs.
  • While flirting, individuals who are attracted to their partner tend to compliment them relatively frequently, particularly at the beginning of the interaction.

 

Implementing this knowledge

There are three main ways in which you can use your understanding of how people flirt:

  • First, you can use this understanding in order to improve your own flirting style in general.
  • Second, you can use this understanding in order to tailor the way you flirt in a way that fits a specific partner that you are interested in.
  • Finally, you can also use this understanding in order to develop a smart preselection process, that will allow you to get better results in the courtship process, by choosing which people to approach in the first place.

 

Improving your own flirting style

You can make your own flirting style more effective, by using your understanding of flirting behavior in order to emphasize your strengths and address your weaknesses.

For example, if you’ve identified that you have a physical flirting style, you could choose to go focus on situations where you have a lot of physical interactions with your potential partner (e.g. dancing), while avoiding scenarios where such contact doesn’t take place (e.g. online).

On the other hand, if you have a primarily polite flirting style and therefore struggle to get others to understand that you are interested in them romantically, you could choose to be a bit more forthcoming in your approach, in order to compensate for your natural tendency to be reserved.

 

Tailoring your flirting style to your partner’s

You can also tailor your flirting style in order to make it fit a specific person better, since understanding the flirting style of potential partners allows you to predict what type of flirting behavior they prefer to engage in.

For example, if you are someone with a playful flirting style, and you are interested in someone with a physical flirting style, you could channel your playfulness to more physical areas.

Conversely, if you have a playful flirting style, and you are interested in someone with a polite flirting style, you could reduce the playful nature of your flirting, and act in a more conservative way.

 

Deciding who to approach in the first place

Understanding your own flirting style, as well as the flirting style of potential partners, will allow you to benefit from a smarter preselection process.

Specifically, by looking at your own flirting style and at the flirting style of a potential partner, you could decide whether you should even approach them in the first place, based on how well your flirting styles will fit together.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have the exact same flirting style. Rather, it means that you should attempt to engage with people whose flirting style will work with yours in some way.

For example, someone with a polite flirting style could have good chemistry with someone that has a sincere flirting style. Similarly, a playful flirting style could work well with a physical flirting style. However, a playful flirting style is unlikely to work well on someone who favors a polite flirting style.

Obviously, if you’re truly interested in someone, this isn’t necessarily a reason not to approach them. However, in some scenarios, and particularly when you’re not yet committed and have multiple options, a smart preselection process can help both you and your potential partner save time and effort.

 

Important reminder about flirting styles

When considering flirting styles, it’s important to keep in mind that people generally display varying degrees of different styles, and that these styles are often related to each other.

For example, the traditional flirting style is positively correlated with the polite flirting style, meaning that people who favor polite courtship also tend to favor the traditional style of flirting. Similarly, the playful flirting style is positively correlated with the physical flirting style, so that people who tend to be playful when they flirt also tend to be comfortable expressing their physical attraction in their flirting.

Overall, the key thing that you should do is remember the different styles of flirting, and account for them when you interact with a potential partner. This means assessing your own flirting style as well as the flirting style of your potential partner, and acting accordingly when flirting, while also using this knowledge to determine whether you should even flirt with them in the first place.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Research identifies five main styles of flirting: physical, sincere, playful, traditional, and polite.
  • The physical style is associated with expressing interest through physical behavior. The sincere style is associated with attempts to create an emotional bond. The playful style is associated with playful, non-committed behavior. The traditional style is associated with behavior which abides by traditional gender roles. The polite style is associated with a highly cautious approach to flirting.
  • People display different levels of each style, and different styles are correlated with each other, so that a person who is playful is also likely to be physical, while someone who is polite is also likely to be traditional.
  • Men tend to initiate verbal contact, and often make space-maximizing movements before approaching a woman. Women, on the other hand, tend to signal interest through nonverbal cues, such as prolonged eye contact, and often smile more when they are interested in a prospective partner.
  • You can use this knowledge in three main ways. First, you can improve your own flirting style, by playing to your strengths and working on your weaknesses. Second, you can tailor your flirting style to work well with the flirting style of a specific person that you are interested in. Finally, you can improve your preselection process, by assessing your own flirting style and that of your potential partner, before deciding whether to approach them in the first place.

 


The Ad Hominem Fallacy: How People Use Personal Attacks to Win Arguments

Ad Hominem Fallacy

 

An ad hominem argument is an argument that attacks a person directly, instead of addressing the point that they are trying to make.

This rhetorical technique is frequently used in discussions on various topics, so it’s important to understand it. In the following article, you will learn more about ad hominem arguments, see what types of them exist, and understand what you can do in order to counter them successfully.

 

What is an ad hominem argument

An ad hominem argument (argumentum ad hominem) is an argument that attacks a person or a group directly, instead of addressing the point that they are trying to make.

An example of an ad hominem argument is the following:

Alice: I think that we should reconsider the way that we distribute the federal budget.

Bob: I think that you shouldn’t talk about the federal budget, since you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about.

In this example, Bob simply dismisses Alice’s claim with a personal insult, instead of discussing what she said or presenting a valid stance of his own.

Accordingly, ad hominem arguments are a type of an informal logical fallacy, meaning that there is an issue with their premise, that renders them unsound from a logical perspective. Specifically, the issue with ad hominem arguments is that they are based on the faulty premise that an attack against the source of an opposing arguments constitutes as a valid attack against the opposing argument itself.

As such, ad hominem arguments are categorized as a subtype of the fallacy of irrelevance, since they contain information that is not directly relevant to the discussion at hand. More specifically, ad hominem arguments are a subtype of the genetic fallacy, since the person using them is arguing against a certain stance in an indirect manner, by attacking its source.

Note that in some cases, arguments against the source of information can be relevant to the discussion. As long as they are relevant, and as long as the person who’s using them explains why they are relevant, the use of such arguments isn’t logically fallacious.

As such, an argument directed at a person becomes a fallacious ad hominem attack only when it is not directly relevant to the discussion at hand, or when the person who’s using it fails to demonstrate why it’s relevant.

In the next section, you will learn about the various types of ad hominem arguments. Then, you will learn the basic techniques that you can use to counter and defeat this sort of arguments.

 

Types of ad hominem arguments

There are several different types of ad hominem arguments. What they all have in common is that the person using these arguments is attacking their opponent directly, by using information that is irrelevant to the discussion, instead of addressing the point that their opponent is trying to make.

As such, the difference between the various types of ad hominem arguments is that each of them attacks the source of the opposing argument in a different way. Some of these attacks are relatively sophisticated, and can even be rendered reasonable using a few modifications, while others are simply crude and abusive, and should never appear in proper discourse.

 

Poisoning the well

Poisoning the well is a rhetorical technique where someone presents unrelated negative information about their opponent, with the goal of discrediting everything that their opponent says.

An example of a ‘poisoning the well’ argument is the following:

Alice: I think that we should increase the federal spending on education.

Bob: You’re a fascist, so clearly we shouldn’t listen to what you have to say about education.

 

Appeal to motive (circumstantial ad hominem)

An appeal to motive (the main type of circumstantial ad hominem) is an argument that dismisses a certain stance, by questioning the motives of the person who supports it.

An example of an ‘appeal to motive’ argument is the following:

Alice: I think that we should increase the federal spending on education.

Bob: You’re only saying that because you want to show support for the president that you voted for.

 

Appeal to hypocrisy (tu quoque)

An appeal to hypocrisy (also known as tu quoque) is an argument that attempts to discredit a person, by suggesting that their argument is inconsistent with their previous acts.

An example of an ‘appeal to hypocrisy’ argument is the following:

Alice: I think that we should increase the federal spending on education.

Bob: You clearly don’t even care about public education, since you sent your own kids to a private school.

 

Tone policing

Tone policing is an attack that focuses only on the manner in which a person makes an argument, instead of addressing the argument itself.

An example of a ‘tone policing’ argument is the following:

Alice: I think that we should increase the federal spending on education. The current situation is unacceptable in many of the poorer areas of the country, and children are suffering because of it.

Bob: Okay, okay, no need to get so worked up over these things.

Alice: But what do you think about the situation?

Bob: I think that you shouldn’t be so emotional about it.

 

Traitorous critic fallacy (argumentum ergo decedo)

The traitorous critic fallacy (also known as argumentum ergo decedo) is a logical fallacy which involves telling a person who criticized something that they should stay away from whatever it is they are criticizing, if they don’t approve of the current situation.

An example of a ‘traitorous critic’ argument is the following:

Alice: I think that as a country, we’re not spending enough on healthcare.

Bob: Well if you don’t like it here, then you should just leave and go somewhere where they have the kind of healthcare that you want.

 

Association fallacy

The association fallacy is a logical fallacy which occurs when someone is attacked based on their supposed connection to something which is unrelated to the discussion at hand.

An example of an ‘association fallacy’ argument is the following:

Alice: I think that we should increase the federal spending on education.

Bob: Well, the Nazis also thought that, so you’re like the Nazis.

 

Abusive fallacy

The abusive fallacy is a logical fallacy which occurs when an argument simply attacks a person in a direct and abusive manner, instead of addressing the point that they are trying to make.

An example of an ‘abusive fallacy’ argument is the following:

Alice: I think that we should increase the federal spending on education.

Bob: I think that you’re a moron and that nobody cares about your opinion.

 

How to counter ad hominem arguments

The main issue with ad hominem arguments is that they focus on information that is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, but that they also present this information in a manner which could nevertheless influence the result of the discussion.

As such, you have several options to choose from when it comes to countering ad hominem arguments:

  • Point out the irrelevance of the ad hominem attack. You can do this by pointing out that the personal attack has nothing to do with the argument at hand, and by calling out your opponent on their use of this fallacy. It’s best to not become defensive when doing this, and if necessary, you should go on the offense and ask your opponent to justify why their personal attack on you is relevant to the discussion.
  • Respond to the attack. In some cases, you might want to fully address the ad hominem attack, even if it’s not directly relevant to the discussion at hand. This is a reasonable course of action when the attack has to do with factors such as your motives, which might be relevant to the discussion somehow, but it’s generally not recommended in cases when the attack is strictly personal or abusive, and has nothing to do with the discussion.
  • Ignore the attack. You can choose to keep the discussion going, while refusing to engage with the personal attack that your opponent made. This can work in some cases, and especially when ignoring the personal attacks makes you appear more credible, by showing that you refuse to stoop to your opponent’s level. However, in some cases this isn’t a viable option, and especially when you feel that not responding will imply that you agree with whatever was said against you, even if it’s not relevant to the discussion.
  • Acknowledge the attack and move on. This is similar to ignoring the ad hominem attack, except that you first acknowledge the attack in order to show that you don’t care about it, before moving on with the discussion. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to agree with the attack; rather, it means that you have to show that you’re aware of it, which might look better than ignoring it entirely. To do this, you can use language such as “I get it that you think that I’m X, but that doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re discussing here, so I’m not going to address it”.

Keep in mind that in some cases, you can choose to counterattack with personal attacks of your own when your opponent uses an ad hominem attack against you. However, this means that you are resorting to logically fallacious arguments, so think carefully before you choose to do this.

Furthermore, stooping to your opponent’s level and responding to personal attacks against you with personal attacks of your own can reflect badly on you in the eyes of others, and generally destroys any chance of engaging in a productive dialogue.

The one way in which it can be relatively acceptable to respond to an ad hominem attack with an attack of your own is to you use a similar form of the attack that was used against you, in order to show that such an attack presents information that is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. For example:

Alice: I think that we should increase the federal spending on education.

Bob: You’re only saying that because you want to support the president that you voted for.

Alice: Not really, just as I hope you’re not arguing against it only because you want to support the president that you voted for.

Most importantly, remember that ad hominem attacks are personal, but shouldn’t be taken as such. As such, whichever approach you choose to use in order to counter these arguments, make sure to remain calm, and to not let this type of attack get to you, since that’s one of the main reasons why people will use it against you in the first place.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • An ad hominem argument is an argument that attacks a person directly, instead of addressing the point that the person is trying to make.
  • These arguments are logically fallacious, because they rely on presenting irrelevant information, in an attempt to discredit a certain argument by attacking its source.
  • Though questioning the source of information can certainly be valid in some cases, this type of argument is fallacious in cases where the attack has nothing to do with the discussion at hand, or in cases where the person using it fails to demonstrate how it relates to the discussion.
  • There are various types of ad hominem arguments, and each of them attacks people in a different way, such as by calling them hypocrites, by questioning their motives, or by telling them to stay away from the issue if they disagree with the current state of things.
  • To counter ad hominem arguments, you can either point out the logical flaw in the argument, respond to the attack, ignore the attack entirely, or briefly acknowledge the attack and then move on. In some cases, you can also counterattack with a similar personal argument, in order to show that such an attack is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.