This is the sneaky trick your brain uses to keep you stuck during times of uncertainty.

We tend to think that things will remain the same for a long term, and when it doesn’t, we think it has to. This is all because our subconscious mind (that’s 95 percent of our cognition) tends to make decisions based on our past experiences. Our desire to keep things as it is in times of extreme change is what makes us think we have to keep the status quo as it is; and the brain has a sneaky trick in making us think that things are the same. This phenomenon is the Parkinson’s second law of triviality, also known as Bikeshedding, and it is particularly effective at keeping you in an unproductive loop.


Related media: Parkinson’s Law – The Secret Effect Behind Elon Musk’s Crazy Deadlines


What’s Parkinson’s Law?

Parkinson’s law of triviality has two laws. The first law states that just as a goldfish will grow to fit the size of it’s bowl, a task will take up as much time as it is allowed. If you happen to say “I work best under a deadline or under pressure,” this is why you say so. As long as the time to complete something is unlimited, it is more difficult to complete. The second law states that when you have a big, important task, you’re more likely going to get hung up on something trivial that will end up taking a huge disproportionate amount of time.



Are You Bikeshedding?

Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Of course, if that’s the origin story of the phenomenon, then it seems ridiculous. Almost everyone would say, “I will never do that,” but unfortunately, that’s not reality. We tend to do this all the time — mostly during this pandemic — when our brain is overwhelmed with the sudden change. Here are a few hypothetical scenarios of how this might be affecting you regular schedule of work.

Bikeshedding lets you think that whatever you are doing at the moment needs all your time and devotion because it’s really important than whatever you’ve done before. You often think about similar worse case scenarios in the past that went terrible, so you waste your time on that task just to make it better. This lets you disregard “the new” important thing at hand and by the time you realize, you haven’t done much on it despite all that time and devotion. You’ve been there, huh?



Don’t Bike Shed, Take The Bus

So how on Earth do you spot and avoid bikeshedding for cry out loud? Short answer: take the bus. Kidding! Here are practical solutions to each of the scenarios aforementioned: All you need to do is to identify the goal and why that goal matters in the first place to begin with. As Nir Eyal writes in an Inc. Magazine article, you can only know if something is a distraction if you know what it is distracting you from. To gain traction toward your goals, you need to define them.

Let’s say you have an important item on your to-do-list that you keep on postponing for tomorrow, then pause and ask yourself these questions: 

What if this decision wouldn’t even matter in a couple of months and seems easy to change (say, your new workout routine) then it is more likely than not that you’re going to keep on skipping your workouts?


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Jan 16, 2021.

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