Seth Godin and Parkinson’s Law


Seth Godin had an interesting post today about “Serving Size“.

In the post, Seth talks about how in our culture, our instinct is to “fill the bowl”. We are used to filling coffee to the brim of our cup, to eating whatever portion we are served, to spending just as much as we make.

Seth then points out that if you want to do less of something, then, get a smaller bowl. It’s the simplest possible hack, but it truly works.

While reading this it reminded me of Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion“. It was first articulated by Cyril Northcote Parkinson as part of the first sentence of a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955.

I must admit I have often found this law to be true. If I have a project with a deadline that is a week away, I often find that the project remarkably gets done right before the deadline. I am also quite sure that if the deadline had been two weeks away for the same project, then I would have finished it in two weeks.

It’s also such a great feeling, at least for me, on those occasions when you complete something ahead of schedule, but unfortunately that does not happen as often as I’d like.

Wikipedia has listed some corollaries to Parkinson’s Law, as shown below:

  • the Stock–Sanford corollary:
    If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.
  • the Horstman’s corollary:
    Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.
  • there are also corollaries relating to computers, such as:
    Data expands to fill the space available for storage and
    Google Chrome expands to fill the RAM available.
  • and let me add my own:
    Junk expands to fill the space available in your house, whether it’s a closet, a cabinet, a garage, or a shed

But the fix, as Seth points out for all these, is simple – reduce the size of the resource, whether that resource is time or storage space.

I know I am certainly looking forward to the day when we decide to downsize.

While I am sure we will still fill all the space we have available in our reduced space, at least there will be less total junk.

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