Applying Parkinson’s Law of Triviality to get more out of life

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is about mitigating the trivial to focus on what truly matters.

parkinson's law of triviality

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is a law that says members of an organisation tend to give too much attention to trivial issues and not enough on important and critical matters.

Conceived by author, C. Northcote Parkinson in the 1950s, the law of triviality is meant to describe how organisations, notably in the business realm, are notoriously bad at allocating appropriate time to the most important tasks.

It got me thinking, however, that Parkinson’s Law of Triviality can be applied to a wider life context than a business one.

Think of the countless hours, days, months and even years people waste on trivial things that bring them no further to their goals. The time wasted on what could be spent on personal growth or experiencing the richness of life.

  • How much time do people waste on being in a bad relationship out of fear of being alone. The time as a single person could be spent growing and discovering themselves. 
  • The time spent in work doing a job they dislike with people they dislike. I understand everyone has to work but if you’re in a shitty job you should be making moves to break out.
  • Time spent with low energy and toxic friends who don’t like to see you improve yourself and put you down when you try to change. This time could be used to build a better social circle of like-minded people. 
  • The time spent sitting at home mindlessly watching junk TV when you could be working on developing good health. Think how your body would look and feel if you had spent it in the gym or pounding the pavement. 
  • Idly using social media for hours. Reading clickbait articles and sharing negative/fake news. How much knowledge would you gain by becoming a digital minimalist and instead reading books or creating content instead. 
  • The time spent worrying about what people think. Think of how much time you could have been in the flow state of being you. 
  • The time spent going to the same places week in week out when you could have been on an adventure to new places. Breaking out of those habits to explore new lands and people. 

Living until 80 years old gives you 701,000 hours of life. Around 205,000 of these hours are spent asleep. This leaves 496,000 total time awake from birth to death. Understanding the law of triviality can save you years. 

If you’re reading this and you’re 40 you have half, which is 248,000 hours of wake time. 

How much time in the past have you wasted on trivial things? How much time in the future do you intend to waste on the trivial? 

Let’s say you take 365 of these hours and used them to train for one hour a day for a year. How different would you look by the end of that year? 

Or you allocate 1.5hrs a day to writing which equates to 548 hours of writing over the year. Let’s be conservative and say you write 350 words an hour. That’s 192,000 words which is enough to fill two to three books! 

Your lifetime is a journey of stages. Each stage includes ups, downs and opportunities for growth. 

You can’t avoid all trivialities in life as they’re an inevitable part of living. But by always keeping what’s important front of mind you can catch yourself when you’re veering towards the trivial. 

Henry David Thoreau illustrated it best when he said, “The mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts should be tinged with triviality.” 

And all the while the clock continues to tick. 

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