Parkinson’s Law: Working to Your (Time) Limit

Far and away one of the greatest benefits to living the dot com lifestyle is that you get to set your own schedule. You have the time freedom to work on what you want, when you want, where you want. But as dear old Uncle Ben told us so many years ago, with great power comes great responsibility.

You see, here’s the thing. When you’re employed at a more traditional company and you work a more conventional kind of schedule to earn your regular salary, it’s easy to leave your work at work. I recognize that with the advent of email and remote working apps that this isn’t always the case, but at least in theory, you can “clock in” at 9 in the morning and “clock out” at 5 in the evening. Those are your hours.

Freelancing, blogging, Internet marketing and the dot com lifestyle are different. In theory, while you may work on what you want, when you want, where you want, you could theoretically work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Internet never “shuts down” and the it doesn’t really have “regular business hours.” There is always something to do, so you may feel compelled to do it.

The Write Stuff?

Let’s make this a little more specific. Let’s say that you want to self-publish a book. If this is a side project for you, then you might decide that you’ll just “work on it when I have time.” Without a definitive deadline and without a set plan for how much you plan on doing each day, week or month, this “side project” could get kicked further and further down the road.

That’s precisely what happened with me for both Beyond the Margins and Beyond the Baby Babble. Because I left it open ended, I’d just work on it sometimes and the “estimated” publication date kept moving further and further down the calendar.

More Time, More Problems

This is an example of what is called Parkinson’s law. Named after 20th century British author Cyril Northcote Parkinson, and not to be confused with Parkinson’s disease (named after 19th century English doctor James Parkinson), Parkinson’s law states that “work expands as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, give yourself more time to do something and you’ll automatically figure out how to fill all that time doing that thing.

Here’s a good visual to help you better understand this principle. When you first moved out of your family home, maybe you moved into a college dorm. You had your own bedroom, but had shared living space with other students. After college, you move into your own apartment and suddenly have your own living room, kitchen and dining room. You buy furnishings to fill that space. After you get married, you move into a starter home with your sweetheart with some more bedrooms and bigger living space, so you buy more things to fill that space.

As you ascend into the echelons of the lavish dot com lifestyle and purchase a 5,000 square foot mansion, you suddenly have way more personal space than you’ve ever had before. So, you fill it up with more furniture and more things. As you acquired more space, you got more things to fill that space. Time works in much the same way. Allow yourself the time and you’ll fill it up without really thinking about it.

Where Are Those TPS Reports?

So, what does this mean from a productivity and effectiveness standpoint? As I’ve said before, there is nothing more motivating than an imminent deadline… even if that deadline is completely arbitrary and utterly self-imposed.

The way to counter the effects of Parkinson’s law is decide in advance exactly how much time you want to dedicate to a given task or project. And then actually stick to that timeline. This will help to minimize the appeal of analysis paralysis. This will force you to take more action instead of simply thinking about taking action. And then things will actually get done. By giving yourself less time to do something, you’re forced to focus and stay on task. You’re forced to concentrate.

And you know the best part of doing it this way? Not only will your work get done, but you’ll also leave yourself with enough “free time” to bask in the glory of the dot com lifestyle too.