Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

Breaking Parkinson's Law

A task expands to fill the given window of time to complete the task.  Isn’t that so true?  You have an assignment due at the end of the week.  Awesome, you have a whole week!  Fast forward to the night before and you’re pounding coffee like you have a serious problem.  This is how Parkinson’s Law, one of my greatest enemies, works.  

But I think I’d rather be friends. I seem to be meditating a lot on time recently, both how it is perceived and how we use it.  Maybe it’s because I’m at such a huge crossroads right now, the whole graduating college and going out into the world thing.  Arriving at such a moment makes one realize that time is always fleeing.

As a society that lives in monochromatic time, the management of each minute we’re given is important.  We are task-driven people with to-do lists to knock down.  Despite my recent wanderings into a more polychromatic frame of mind, I don’t refute that time-management is important, mainly because I don’t relish being in college forever, or broke.

That said, I feel like there’s no greater victim of Parkinson’s Law than me.  It’s not that I don’t love my work, not at all.  I’m just…easily distracted.  Sometimes just going for a stroll is more appealing than attacking my to-do list.  But to get to the wandering and adventures we have to go through the scary forest of deadlines.  Here are a few tips on how we can actually make Parkinson’s Law work for us, or at least avoid its wrath.

1. Jump right in

I can’t be alone when I say that starting is the hardest part of any task for me, especially if I don’t want to do it to begin with.  The best advice is to dive in head-first without even allowing yourself the time to build up dread.  Jumping in can definitely reduce that initial procrastination window.  As long as we actively think of this as an alternative to filing a project under “sometime later,” we can get a good head start.

2. Give yourself shorter deadlines

If a task expands to fill the time you’re given to do it, simply give yourself less time.  This is one of those easier said than done things, I know.  But as I am soon leaving the comfort of firm deadlines dealt by my professors, and hopefully moving to a future where I have more autonomy than the traditional grind, it’s a necessity.

3. Use staggered deadlines

Something that I’ve found to be extremely helpful lately is determining the latest possible deadline for a project, and then developing different phases with their own deadlines.  While it sounds like I’m overcomplicating work, I really have been less caffeine-addled by staging out my work.  This enables me to complete every essential part of a greater task at a comfortable pace.  I believe this is called chunking, or something.  Kind of an unappealing technical term.

4. Self-control

No really, use SelfControl, the free software program that blocks whatever websites you ask it to.  After all, a task normally expands to fill time because we’re filling that time with other stuff that is in no way relevant to it (reading 10 articles in a row).  Just add the biggest time-sucking websites you can think of to the list, set the amount of time you want them to be blocked, and presto.  There’s no going back now, not even if you close it or shut down.  You have to wait.

5. Humble thyself

“I can do that in 5 minutes.”  ”That’s my specialty, easy stuff.”  ”Okay, this is pretty easy, I feel entitled to a 5-hour break now.”  All things that I’ve thought while simultaneously making my life harder than it needed to be.  We can’t possibly foresee all the roadblocks that can pop up for even the easiest projects.  Even if something is simple, this mentality will make it just as stressful when your window of time begins to close.

Hopefully, these five very simple tips will help you and myself to avoid the negative consequences of Parkinson’s Law, and possibly make it work to our advantage.  It’s all up to us.  We can either be a slave to this most unscrupulous law, or, we can set ourselves on the fast track to a cold brew with friends.  I think I’ll take an easy mind, a paycheck in one hand, and a beer in the other, thank you very much.

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