Every time I've heard about Parkinson's it's been in the context of the debilitating medical condition that my grandmother died of. Recently I've read about a different kind of Parkinson's - Parkinson's Law. Even if you don't recognize the name, I'm betting that you've come across the phenomenon. Wikipedia's definition is very brief, Parkinson's Law is the adage that "work expands to fill the time available."
Three Ways I've Been Impacted by Parkinson's Law
If you read a little more into the Wikipedia definition, you'll see that a more general definition is "the demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource." I've found this to be true of nearly every project I've tried to accomplish in life. Specifically it applies to at least three areas, work, space, and money.
Parkinson's Law of Work/Time
This was the base case mentioned from the outset. Have you ever had that book report that you put off until the last minute? I always choked it up to procrastination, but maybe it was Parkinson's Law. In my years as a software engineer, I've rarely seen a project finish under the projected time allotted for the work. This is theme that's prevalent in Frederick Brook's Mythical Man-Month.
Sadly, I find that this continues with my writing today. In fact, it's several times worse, because I have some long term projects that have no definitive due date on them. When there is no due date, the work expands infinitely. I need to work on this. One idea I'm thinking of is enlisting my wife as a project manager. I'd explain to her each week what I'm looking to accomplish. At the end of the week, we'd go through and make sure that I have it - instant accountability!
Parkinson's Law of Space
Do you have a problem with clutter? Ever think that if you just had more space, you'd be magically organized? Maybe it works for you. It doesn't work well for me. If I have a really big desk, I will use up every inch of that space with stuff. I think I rationalize it as, "I still have more space before I have start to clean."
Maybe it's not your desk, but your clothes closet. Or maybe it's a McMansion that you need to fill with furniture. Or maybe it's crowded kitchen counters.
Parkinson's Law of Money
Have you ever gotten a tax refund or raise? Was your first thought in your mind that you can now buy that pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or a plasma television? Yeah, I've never had those thoughts either ;-). That's probably because you are reading this site and likely have read other personal finance sites.
The average person does think like this and some call it lifestyle inflation. If you make more money, the demand for your money rises.
Possible Solutions for Parkinson's Law
While there are many solutions here are a couple that I've found help me.
- Time - I stay on track when I work at home with a kitchen timer. I divide my tasks into smaller, manageable pieces. I then give myself 10-15 minutes to finish the task and move on to the next one.
- Space - My wife and I live in a 1100 sq. ft. apartment. We could probably squeeze into an 800 sq. ft. place with a little spring cleaning. I like to focus a little more on thinking small and doing more with less space. Maybe that means having a Wii instead of a pool table.
- Money - I pay myself first. If I don't see the money in my checking account I can't spend it. If I can get it in a tax-advantaged retirement account, I'm sure I'm not going to spend it frivolously.
Do you have a problem with Parkinson's Law? How do you solve the problems that can arise from it? Let me know in the comments...
Photo Credit: Guacamole Goalie
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