Parkinson’s Law

In this hilarious article published in the Economist in 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson discusses the “commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Parkinson is commenting specifically about working within a government bureaucracy, but it’s painfully true even within the freelance nation, and even when your bureaucracy is comprised of exactly one.

Give me a week to research, conduct interviews for and write a 1500-word article, and I’ll meet that deadline. Give me three weeks, and I’ll still meet the deadline, but every minute will be consumed. The kicker, though, is that the piece won’t necessarily be any better than the one that took a week. It will, however, be more stressful and less lucrative.

How does this happen? Basically, I get lazy. Rather than diving into research, I do a little here and a little there. Then I extend interview invitations with a wider window of opportunity. Once I’m ready to write, I give up easily when the words don’t flow like the Amazon River rather than paddling along until something useful emerges.

This is the stressful part: the unfounded fear that the words will never come; that I won’t meet the deadline. I think I’ve said before that I’m a believer in the “just write” approach to getting ‘er done. If you have a tight deadline, you are forced to “just write,” and, inevitably, a worthy sentence reveals itself to you. Turning off the computer, inevitably, yields nothing.

So, it’s all well and good that I know Parkinson’s Law is at work in my professional life.  The next step is figuring out how to defy it. I’ll get back to you on that one after I set a deadline.

The Labor of Love


The freelance life is nothing if not diverse. One week I am writing about modern slavery, the next it’s celiac disease or running or business loans or Valentine’s Day gifting or cervical cancer in Latin America. I am thrilled when someone hires me to write on a defined topic because I get to learn something new, interview smart people, practice writing to different specifications and, of course, earn a paycheck. 

But it’s also a thrill to work on an idea that I dream up, get really creative and write to my own specifications (sadly, there is rarely a paycheck benefit here). The problem with these labors of love, though, is that I wantonly trample my own deadlines, and suffer no ramifications for doing so. Which means I have dozens of half-baked articles, essays, poems and pitches lurking around in my computer, wondering where the hell I went.

For the past nine months or so, I’ve been working with a fabulous designer at Big Star Creative to turn a sweet travel log compiled hastily on a whim into a beautiful little handbook about traveling to Paris with kids. And it really is beautiful, as evidenced by the image at the top of this post. But, I simply cannot seem to finish this project. There are just a few more words to eke out, a few more helpful tips to plug in and…voila…there we’ll be, getting fawned over on the pages of the NY Times travel section and very prettily guiding jaunty families through the City of Light.

What’s a deadline-driven girl to do? No, seriously. Somebody tell me. Please.