In 1955, Cyril Parkinson wrote an article in The Economist which described the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Parkinson was using it as a mathematical equation describing how bureaucracy expands over time. The bigger the government gets, the more bureaucracy, and therefore the less efficient they become.
Inefficient governments will not come as a surprise to many.
Parkinson’s law also perfectly describes the way we work. The more time we are given to complete a task, the more inefficient we become.
It’s human nature.
If we are given 4 hours to do a task that could normally be completed in half the time, it will take us four hours.
We procrastinate, watch YouTube, answer WhatsApp messages, and are less focused until we near the deadline; when we shift up the gears and finish the task.
If we are only given 2 hours we could complete the same task in two hours.
Therefore, you can use Parkinson’s law as a productivity hack.
I did this by setting a 50 blogs in 50 days challenge to myself.
I wasn’t sure if Parkinson’s law was a thing or not hence it was part of my creative experiment.
In order to increase my productivity, I committed to massively increasing my output.
And it worked. No question about it. I have been forced to sit down, switch off the internet, and put in the work.
Otherwise, I would have failed my challenge.
And that was not an option. By removing the option of procrastination and daydreaming I have massively increased my productivity.
The Quality of Work
In this study in the Harvard Business Review, they discuss that innovation is increased by constraints.
In my experience this is true.
When you have to ideate 5 articles a week the constraint is time. In these circumstances, your mind is actively pursuing more opportunities to join the dots
It’s constantly looking for angles. Anything, regardless of how banal it is, I find myself musing: “would this make a good article?”
It usually doesn’t but it’s fascinating to see how the subconscious mind is always working on unfinished business.
This is The Zeigarnik Effect.
However, it depends on the work you prefer to do. My challenge was set up for medium form quantity articles that could be read in 3-5 minutes.
What I miss doing is 2000+ word long-form articles.
When you are working with so many ideas in a week, it’s difficult to arrive at those eureka moments simply because the subconscious has too many ideas to work on when focusing on one idea would get better results.
Parkinson’s law is also true with money and creativity
Music videos are expensive. That’s what I used to think when I had artists signed to major labels.
We wouldn’t think twice about spending £20-25k on a music video.
This got us a good video.
When the market changed completely and most artists became independent we still needed music videos but we didn’t have those budgets.
So we worked with highly creative video production teams. The smaller the budget the more creative they had to get in order to make it work.
We would spend just £1k and get the same quality of video.
When you have money it’s easy to throw it at problems. When you’re skint you are forced into creative solutions to make the project work.
There’s a story about Ernest Hemingway in which he makes a bet with his friends that he can tell a powerful, compelling story in just 6 words.
This is what he wrote.
For sale: baby shoes, never worn
Powerful stuff, right?
And, of course, there is my favourite anecdote about how to use constraints to increase creativity: The Dr. Seuss Method.
The Dr. Seuss Method
In 1960 two men had a $50 bet.
One of the men was Theodore Geisel a.k.a Dr. Seuss. The other was Bennet Cerf, the co-founder of Random House publishers.
The bet was Geisel couldn’t write a successful book in 50 unique words or less. The result was “Green Eggs and Ham”
This proved to be Geisel’s most popular book.
This wasn’t the first writing challenge presented to Geisel.
Geisel worked in advertising. The American school system at that time had books that were not captivating children’s imagination and encouraging them to read beyond what they were forced to do.
William Spaulding, director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, challenged Geisel to “write a story that first-graders can’t put down” and asked that it be limited to 225 distinct words from a list of 348 words that were selected from a standard first grader’s vocabulary list.
Geisel failed the challenge. He used 236 unique words. “The cat in the hat” was published in 1957 and quickly sold a million copies.
Geisel quit advertising and became a full time children’s author.
Fun fact: The original story was about a Queen cat but “queen” wasn’t on the approved word list. However, “hat” was and it rhymed with “cat”, so Geisel wrote that book instead.
The Cat Queen doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
Constraints increase creativity and productivity.
- Give yourself time constraints to increase productivity. Announce them publicly or get an accountability buddy.
- Set yourself creative challenges
- Increase your creativity by reducing the resources you have at your disposal.
- Write a song using only 50 unique words.
A bit about me
I’m an ex- multi-platinum artist manager. I created strategies and built audiences for artists who sold millions.
You can read more in the archives here. Find out more information on my website or connect on my LinkedIn
Too Much to do? Don’t know where to start?
I help creators and indie founders build no bullshit step by step creative business strategies to achieve their long term goals
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