Why We Focus on Trivial Things: The Bikeshed Effect

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We hope you enjoyed learning more about the Pomodoro technique last week! Did you get to try it out in your work session? How did it go? We’d love to hear your experiences.

If you missed last week, you can catch up here 🙂

Today, we’re looking at ‘The Bikeshed Effect’ and how it may be impacting your meetings and productivity. Let’s dive in.

"The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."

- Stephen Covey (Source)

The Bikeshed Effect, also known as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, highlights our tendency to spend excessive time on trivial matters while glossing over important ones. This phenomenon is rooted in the principle that the simpler a topic is, the more people will have an opinion on it and thus more to say about it.

The Law of Triviality was coined by British naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson in the 1950s. It suggests that in organizational discussions, major, complex issues often receive the least attention, while simple, minor ones receive disproportionate focus. This concept is illustrated by Parkinson's example of a committee meeting where discussions about a £10 million nuclear power plant and a £350 bike shed are eclipsed by a lengthy debate over a £21 annual coffee budget.

Bikeshedding occurs because individuals feel more comfortable voicing opinions on topics within their circle of competence. While they may not have valuable contributions to make, the fear of appearing ignorant drives them to participate in discussions about trivial matters.

To avoid falling into the trap of bikeshedding, it is essential to have a clear purpose for meetings and discussions. Specificity in goals ensures that time and energy are focused on relevant issues. Additionally, inviting only those who can contribute meaningfully to the discussion helps prevent unnecessary debates on trivial matters.

The key takeaway is to prioritize input from individuals who have relevant knowledge and experience, and to avoid allowing discussions to veer off track. By focusing on important issues and involving the right people, organizations can ensure that their meetings are productive and lead to meaningful outcomes.

TL/DR: The Bikeshed Effect, or Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, illustrates our inclination to overemphasize minor issues while neglecting significant ones. To counteract this, ensure meetings and discussions are driven by clear, purposeful goals and include only stakeholders with relevant expertise. By prioritizing critical topics and engaging the appropriate contributors, we can enhance the productivity and effectiveness of organizational decision-making.

While primarily known as a messaging app for teams, Slack can be instrumental in reducing bikeshedding by organizing communication into channels based on projects, topics, or teams.

What we love: What we love: The emoji reactions! Save yourself the time of even writing a response when an emoji will do 😅

Asana is a project management tool that helps teams organize and prioritize their work. By using Asana, teams can clearly define project objectives, assign tasks, set deadlines, and track progress.

What we love: They have a free customizable meeting agenda template and guide!

💡 Challenge of the Week

Reflect on your workweek: where is the Bikeshed effect impacting your productivity? Where do smaller, more menial tasks and discussions take away from the important stuff?

We hope you enjoyed learning more about the bikeshed effect, and how it may be impacting your work meetings and productivity. As always, if you have any feedback or questions, please reach out to us!

The Productivity Blueprint Team