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Sorta Random Sunday: Does Parkinson’s Law Hold True?

In 1955, English humorist and historian C. Northcote Parkinson (great name!) wrote, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He himself coined this truism “Parkinson’s Law.”

The question today is if Parkinson’s Law still holds up in the modern world?

And I’ve got to say, looking only at anecdotal experiences from throughout my life, I believe it does. In many ways in fact…

It is true when I procrastinate…

I’m not a huge procrastinator. But we all do it sometimes. And I definitely notice Parkinson’s Law having an effect here.

Parkinson's law

Because let’s say that I have a deadline in two weeks. When I place that task in the “procrastination bin,” guess how long that task will take to complete. And yup, you guessed it…2 weeks!

It really doesn’t matter if that task is a complex one or an easy one. It will take the exact time available to me to be completed. If the task does happen to be a simple one, it just expands to fill up whatever that arbitrary amount of time is.

It’s true when I’m on top of my work

When I am really on top of things and getting things done before they are “due,” I notice Parkinson’s Law as well.

Because whatever task I have in front of me that I am determined to finish, I get done. Again, no matter if it is complex or simple. In this case. the complex tasks tend to “compress” rather than expand to fit in the time allotted.

That doesn’t mean I cut corners. It just means I find ways to get it done.

But this is where we start to get into dangerous territory with Parkinson’s Law…

Because it holds true even when there is no work.

When there is no work, our definition of what actually constitutes “work” tends to change and morph into the time available.

Because, of the two scenarios above, I am generally always on top of my work. I work ahead of schedule on purpose. So that if unexpected hitches arise, I can deal with them without the stress of time constraints.

However, this often means that I am “ahead of schedule.” With time to fill and no tasks that objectively need completing.

And that’s when it happens

New tasks pop into my head. Things that maybe aren’t even really work…but just things I’m planning to do. Like reading a book.

Or tasks that I really don’t need to worry about until well into the future. Because no one ever gets to the end of their “to-do” list. It’s literally impossible.

And all of a sudden, new “work” has been born that I “need” to complete.

Too much of this and we feel like we are on a never ending hamster wheel. Or worse…we get burned out. Because yes, this phenomenon happens in both or personal and professional lives.

So, what’s the antidote to Parkinson’s Law?

Well, if I knew it exactly then I would have these issues kicked. But I don’t. I still struggle with them.

But I think the answer is embracing the fact that our to-do list will never end. Which gives us the freedom and peace to stop chasing its completion.

I also think that being more intentional about our tasks and what needs to be done now versus later versus not at all is important.

It’s not unlike the important principle of being intentional with your money.

Think to yourself, is this task going to give me a reward (whether monetarily, personally, spiritually, etc) that is greater than or equal to its time/effort required? If the answer is yes, do it! If not, don’t do it…and don’t feel guilty about not doing it!

All is easier said than done. Trust me, I know. But if we want to get better, we need to practice!

And here are some posts discussing the important mental aspects of financial well-being:

What do you think? Does Parkinson’s Law hold true? Have you experienced it? How did you address it? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

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