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.