Friday, March 19, 2010

Parkinson's Law

Recently I came across this rather depressing law and have been thinking about it lately:

Parkinson's Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

In other words, if you have a half hour for lunch, you will eat in a half an hour. If you have an hour it will take the whole hour. Work expands to fill the time available.

I find this is true for so many things. When I was a student if I had 2 weeks to do a paper, it would take me two weeks. When I prepare to see my clients if I have two hours, it will take me 2 hours (conversely if I only have one hour it will take me one hour). What sort of insidiousness makes this true? Perhaps it is simply human nature and our ability to procrastinate. Maybe it is only my opinion but it seems that most people are ruled by this principle. As the wikipedia article on the topic states, the idea has been expanded and sprouted several corollaries: for example, the derivative relating to computers:

Data expands to fill the space available for storage.

A second aphorism, attributed to Parkinson and sometimes called "Parkinson's second law", is "expenditures rise to meet income".

The universal truth behind each of these laws could be put like this:
The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.
Ah, human nature, it's great isn't it? I'm not sure if knowing about this law will help me not procrastinate but perhaps it will help me be more aware of it. If you refuse to give in to this law and want to fight it, Lifehacker has some great tips here. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Hey Mark, I don't think we have your email address...but we think you might be interested in what Jonathan is doing right now so if you want you can email him at I have not forgotten about supper with you guys either, we'll have to arrange that when/if you guys are up for it. Congratulations by the way! Hope things are going well with your family!

Lindsay said...

This is PAINFULLY true for people who work from home...

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if i totally agree. I don't find that the job takes longer, i still do it in the same amount of time, i just start it later. Like at school work back in the day, it didn't matter if an assignment was given with two weeks or two days notice, i would usually do it on the last day.