Parkinson’s Law & My Lost Semester of Painting

Slacker Button from The Angry Robot

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

So states Parkinson’s Law. In other words, if you give yourself an hour to do something that takes fifteen minutes, you’ll take an hour to do it.

When I was in art school, I decided to take a semester off so I could have time to ‘be really creative’ and spend a lot of time painting. A school pal of mine warned, “Watch out, it can be really bad to have too much time, you won’t have any pressure to get stuff done.” “Hooey!” I thought, and then proceeded to spend an entire semester finishing crossword puzzles in my favorite Haight Street coffeehouse and catching up on Start Trek: The Next Generation re-runs. During the course of the entire semester I produced exactly one semi-finished painting.

I’ve since learned, that like many people, I need pressure to produce.

It has to be the right amount, though. Too much time pressure and I feel myself rushing through my work just to get it done; too little and it either doesn’t get done or I just can’t focus.

It’s important to consider this when estimating, which is why it’s good to try and set up metrics (which I’ll talk about  next week.) Knowing that the time you’ve allotted yourself is realistic can really help you focus and work mindfully.

5 thoughts on “Parkinson’s Law & My Lost Semester of Painting

  1. This is so so so very true. I’m looking for an accountability group to help with this. Looking forward to reading how you set up metrics next week.

  2. I’ve found that setting internal goals and deadlines helps me break up and manage big swathes of time. I don’t get many hours at work during the summer since I’m in an education field, so I have to figure out ways to still be productive with my side hustles. Exterior accountability from other people or in the form of me-based time constraints definitely help.

  3. a big uh-huh! I know that one… I have gotten way better at measuring time and estimating but still have those days where a deadline (even a false one) needs to be introduced, and then I am back on track.

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