Are you familiar with Parkinson’s Law? (Yes, the law, not the disease.)
I heard about this law for the first time in one of those casual grace conversations with friends. One of them, Carol, just delivered a talk on productivity.
She was defining a super-productive person when she mentioned Parkinson’s Law.
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” she explained.
So that's the term that describes people who wait till the last hour to do whatever they are supposed to do. They expand their work to fill the time frame given to them. Meaning, even if you give them a long deadline, they will fall under the same last-minute work ethic toward completion.
Have you ever experienced Parkinson’s Law yourself?
One student couldn’t turn in her assignment when it was due because her printer had conked out the night before. She could have printed it one week before, right?
All year, a school administrator knew she needed a guest speaker for Mother’s Day, but she put off inviting one till the last month before the occasion. All the possible speakers she had called already had something scheduled on that day and were not available.
For weeks on end, you have a writer’s block, and then suddenly you become a lean, mean machine in the final week before deadline. During which time, you could have experienced any of these things: a nationwide brown out; a computer crash; intermittent Wi-Fi connection; or an invitation to a surprise party you couldn’t refuse.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian, first observed this habit when he was with British Civil Service. He noted that as bureaucracies expanded, they became more inefficient. He concluded: as the size of something increases, efficiency drops.
He also found that even simple tasks became more complex to take up the time allotted to it. Ergo, as the length of time for a task becomes shorter, the task becomes simpler and easier to solve.
In the advertising world where I used to work, every project was urgent. The office would turn into a steaming pressure-cooker that got things done at the shortest possible time.
That’s why in my workplace today, the academe, I have used the same principle without knowing what it was called. I give myself and my students short deadlines—and check on their work every session.
Does it work?
I am not sure. Maybe pressure-cookers are not their thing. But at the very least, within a short period of time, I could rewrite the rules if things aren’t steaming fast enough, and not wait forever for anyone to finish his work.
Parkinson’s Law, gotcha!