Parkinson’s Law asserts that work expands to fill the time it has been allotted. Thanks to modern technologies, work has also expanded to fill most places that we find ourselves.
This year, I’ve deliberately set boundaries around my primary job (as I’ve mentioned before, I have three). I come when my contract begins, I leave when my contract ends, and almost without exception, I do no work at home. This has resulted in feats of last-minute creativity and strategic problem-solving that make my heart race with adrenaline. I’ll admit, I like the rush! And I think that by working smarter, I’m taking my work to new levels. Plus, I’m a much happier employee. The problem is that our culture has engrained in us that we must work harder. I feel more than a twinge of guilt when I arrive and leave on time, and when I turn down opportunities to work at things like school open houses in the evenings. And I have to wonder how much longer I can keep it up before my image as a hard worker takes a major hit.
Making Parkinson’s Law work in our professional lives is one thing, but making it work personally is entirely another. Parkinson assumed that people overestimate the amount of time it takes to do a task, and this leads to procrastination, and to psychological energy being spent on the task even when it is not being performed (thus the work has “expanded”). In my case, the opposite is true. No matter how many times I get ready in the morning, without fail I think it will take me less time than it does. (In fact, I can’t name a household task that I could reasonably estimate it’s required time for completion.) As a result, I’m one of those people who ends up being 5-10 minutes late No matter what time I need to be somewhere. Especially work, and especially since I’ve created my firm boundaries around work.
If the problem is boundaries and time, effort and balance, how do we give our best at work and at home, while maintaining the integrity of our efforts in both halves of our lives?