Musings

On Writing: Parkinson’s Law

Image from Dreamstime by Sherrie Smith
Image from Dreamstime by Sherrie Smith

 

 

 

 

 

Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? It originated with Cyril Parkinson in a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955 and was reprinted in Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress by John Murray (1958).

The law states that work will expand and swell in importance so as to fill the time available for its completion. Alternatively, some define Parkinson’s law in regard to time as the amount of time that one has to perform as task is the amount of time it will take to complete a task. This theory posits that the more time you give yourself to do something, the more complex and daunting it will seem. The perceived amount of work swells to fit the time allotted.

 

Image from Dreamstime by Sherrie Smith
Image from Dreamstime by Sherrie Smith

According to this law, if you give yourself a month to work on any project, that project will take a month to complete. You will not be working on this project for the entire time, of course. During that month you will be doing other things. You will procrastinate. You will work on it a few hours here and there. The project, though, will remain in your consciousness. It will cause you stress. It will take mental energy. At the end of the month when you complete the project, it will seem like you worked on this for the most of the 30 days, when in fact if you count up the actual hours worked, you may find you worked for less than a day.

 

 

This theory is interesting to me as a writer. It reminds me of a passage I read in Ariel Gore’s text on writing, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead:

Deadlines matter. Obviously, you don’t want to get into the habit of delivering mediocre work—that’s not going to do you any good in the long run—but you’ll notice that if you force yourself to meet your deadlines, you’ll learn to produce better and better writing in whatever amount of time you have. You’ll master the sprint as well as the marathon. Meet your deadlines. Meet them every time.

The key line for me in Gore’s quotation is “you’ll learn to produce better and better writing in whatever amount of time you have.” She is, in fact, talking about Parkinson’s Law for writers. If you can focus, you can get a writing project done in a shorter amount of time. If you work to develop this habit, the quality of your writing will improve in the shorter time frames for the projects.

So what lessons can writers learn from Parkinson’s Law? Set tight deadlines for each project. Set time limits and time deadlines for everything you want to complete that day. Once you get into that habit, it will be easier to estimate the amount of time it actually will take you to complete a task.

Image from Dreamstime by Sherrie Smith
Image from Dreamstime by Sherrie Smith

 If you give yourself forever to do something, it is going to take forever to do it.

 

 

Please leave your comments below. I am interested in what you think about this writing technique!

Chris

 

 

 

 

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