Parkinson's "Law"

2019-10-25

Parkinson’s Law states (loosely) that work will expand to fill the time allowed for it. If you give yourself a week to complete a task, it will take all week regardless of how big the task actually is.

Who’s this Parkinson? Surely he’s a respected productivity expert, right? He must be a great scientist who did rigorous studies demonstrating the existence, limits and basis of his famous Law.

Nope! Turns out he was a naval historian. He first published Parkinson’s Law in a satirical article criticizing government bureaucracy. Just a disgruntled rant from a man angry about having to stand in line at the DMV, nothing more.

But people treat it like it’s a real thing. You hear that and think “Yeah, that sounds true” and that’s good enough. You start to put tons of pressure on everything you do and everyone around you, confident now that it will all get done faster, because you’re not allowing room for the work to expand in.

What if the premise is wrong? What if work doesn’t actually expand to fill the time you allow to do it in? What if you lack discipline, or expertise, or you’re just not very good at guessing how long or complex a task will be? You may never know if the only tool in your arsenal is tightening the deadline.