Parkinson’s Law says that a task will take the time we give it, filling up the time as would air in a container.

“The amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

This “law”, oft-cited as truth, implies that we should limit the time we spend doing something. We might clear marks on the calendar as to when to stop, rather than allow the work free rein.

We do tend to allow ourselves more flexibility and depth in a piece of work when given more time. But, I like allowing things their time. They often tend to turn out better. I enjoy letting my thoughts wander here and there, often discovering something that somehow makes the work better.

It would seem that taking one’s time is in conflict with Parkinson’s Law. However, they are compatible so long as we recognize that the issue is not with the phrase, but its interpretation.

“When will it be done?”

… is a question commonly asked by many of themselves and of others.

I remember eagerly anticipating a video game, Blizzard’s next expansion to Warcraft 3, back in the early 2000s. The polish on their games was second to none. Whenever asked the question, they would reply,

“When it’s done.”

I always respected that. Of course many things have deadlines and fiscal responsibilities impacting them. We also may just want to be done with something. That feeling is as real a force as any other. If we can mindfully balance our selves, the work, and our contexts, then that is the time we have to finish something.

There is no reason to artificially give something less time. Allowing something its time to the degree we can gives it a richness that would otherwise not be there.

A Task’s Own Time

But more importantly, projects seem to have their own time. Perhaps I am guilty of imparting some form of Gaian everything-is-alive-view. I find benefit to paying attention to the lifespan of a task and respecting the symbiotic relationship between one’s self and their chosen focus.

A plant may take up more water and nutrients if you provide it, and that plant may be in better shape as a result. And of course, at some point, it is useful to realize when there is too much.

One of the productivity tips I often advocate is to visit something daily. Doing so allows this sort of “giving time” approach. It seemingly flies in the face of the advice to complete something as soon as possible. However, these can both be true.

We can take into account when thought happens in the background. When you step away, ideas fill and form unconsciously so that when you return you do so with a new mind. Each visit allows for a fresh interaction with the material. Creative ideas, in particular, need a plumbing of unconscious depths to sprout above ground.

But, this background work builds upon the frustrations of our direct, in the moment focus. We cannot simply watch television and say, “I’m working on it!” only briefly having considered the task.

Once we take this into account, we can consider, in every moment we are with the work:

  • Has this reached its end?
  • Have I pushed myself to a point of Reasonable Frustration? (See the last mailing)
  • Would it benefit from being set aside until tomorrow?
  • Does other work take priority or can I revisit this?

Certainly retooling and revisiting work takes time. But at some point, the work is not only done, it is a job done well.