Parkinson’s Law

I missed the memo about Parkinson’s Law.

Essentially, Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.  Let that sink in for a second…

I think I was just dinking around on the internet when I first stumbled across Parkinson’s Law.  As a tragic procrastinator and dilly-dally-er, I understood the powerful truthfulness of this law immediately.   When deadlines are upon me, I can somehow manage to focus my efforts and pare down a project to its very essential components.  Whereas when I have seemingly unlimited time, I wander around thinking about this idea and that idea, losing focus and not making much forward progress. 

Never before had I experienced such a nauseating and exhilarating manifestation of this phenomenon as when I sat for the California Bar Exam in the summer of 2004.  *post-traumatic stress shudder*

I’d like to think that it takes a truly exceptionally intelligent person to be a lawyer, but I don’t really think that’s true.  You do, however, have to be relatively quick-witted.  And maybe that’s why the Bar Exam is a timed test.  Tick Toc, Tick Toc….read, think, write…go, go, go.  Heavens, it was stressful. 


After three days, I emerged from the Bar Exam twitchy and tired, but I was pretty sure that I had passed.  And mercifully, I did.  As I think back now, I think the pressure of the time limit actually helped me to do better.  If I had months to ruminate about each question, I would have over-thought  and second-guessed my way into muddled and incorrect answers.  But as the clock ticked down the minutes, I was forced to get very clear about the task at hand and to answer quickly and decisively. 

In real life, I feel Parkinson’s Law working on me all the time.  A little pressure gives me a kick in the ass and brings some focus and clarity to what might otherwise be an enormous and amorphous task.  But here’s the rub…when my boss or the court gives me a deadline, no problem.  But the deadlines I place on myself?  They start feeling arbitrary and movable as they approach.   As I get older,  I do feel like my personal deadlines are a little less arbitrary, though.  It calls to mind this image from “Gone With The Wind”…


Maybe it’s time to live by the deadlines.  Memo received.