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What is Parkinson's Law and how does it apply to creativity and how do deadlines help combat procrastination and make the most of Parkinson's Law?
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Creatives are quite good at losing focus and procrastinating… I wonder why that is… Ooh a shiny thing… Anyway, let’s talk about procrastination a bit today, and I’ll make it quick before I think of something else pointless to do… That’s today’s episode of the positive creatives!
Good morning, afternoon, evening or night whatever time you’ve popped your AirPods in to listen to this episode.
True story, I actually don’t even own a pair of AirPods, true story, so I don’t know how I can call myself a creative!
How are you?! I hope you’re doing well today. Last week was mental health awareness week… or at least it was here in the UK… I’m not sure if that’s a worldwide thing or not?!
Anyway it was, and it’s always good to talk about mental health. I don’t know if it affects creatives disproportionately or not, but I certainly feel like a lot of my creative friends seem to have a lot of ups and downs, especially over the last year. I know I have my fair share of downs too and struggles with my moods.
It’s really good to talk about these things. So if you are struggling right now, reach out to someone you trust and let them know how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel great doing that then please reach out to one of the many mental health helplines, lots of them are available 24 hours.
My DM’s are always open on Instagram too @thepositivecreatives and let’s not just talk about these things in mental health awareness week. Let’s keep talking all year round. Let’s keep checking in on our friends who’ve gone a bit quiet, or who are going through potentially stressful life events. Let’s get back to asking each other to go for a coffee for no reason, just to talk. Because talking is good. And so is listening.
Right, onto this week’s episode topic.
You know what? I almost didn’t do an episode today. I don’t know if it’s because I had nothing in mind to talk about, or that I was feeling lazier than usual, or that I just didn’t want to. I don’t know.
Clearly I did do an episode because here we are. And I’m glad about that. I’m on a 22 week streak now and it would’ve been a shame to break it.
I almost made the episode about what to do when you don’t want to do something, but really my advice is to either do it or not do it and that doesn’t make a very long or compelling episode does it.
But then I remembered reading about this thing called Parkinson’s Law, which I found interesting. And I’ve been wanting to talk about procrastination for a while too, which does link in with Parkinson’s Law… and before I knew it I had a good page or two of notes and I with the wind behind me I fired up my microphone after burners, and I’m feeling all inspired to talk to you about all that!
So, have you ever heard the phrase “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do…”
Are you a last minute worker? Do you give yourself loads of time to do stuff, but just end up doing what feels like procrastinating or avoiding the work until it absolutely has to be done NOW and then rushing and stressing yourself out to get it finished.
Yeah. Me too. You’re definitely not alone in this!
Back in my days of being a database programmer analyst, at one of my jobs we had different jobs that were categorised by the number of days they took, and our most complex jobs were cryptically known as ‘six day jobs’. I know, we were clearly very creative with how we named things.
Anyway, funnily enough, six day jobs gave us six days to get them done.
It didn’t take me long to realise that I could do a six day job in an afternoon. So I’d spend five and a half days looking at photos or football news or researching photography, and then I’d get the six day job done in the last half of the sixth day. And nobody was any the wiser. It was great, although it was very boring and… ok… a little devious.
But this is the thing with human nature, and this is where I introduce you to Parkinson’s Law, which says “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
So because I had six days for a six day job I made it take six days.
And that right there is Parkinson’s Law in a nutshell.
Clearly as self employed or freelance creatives we don’t have bosses telling us that things will take six days or whatever, but basically we will take as long as we give ourselves to do something simply because it’s human nature and this guy Parkinson worked it out.
I think I’m supposed to include proper references and stuff so Parkinson’s Law was coined by C. Northcote Parkinson in The Economist in 1955. I’m sure if you want to find and read the original article you can, but I’m also sure I’m telling you the best bits in a less boring way.
Are you someone who gives yourself too long to do something or not enough time? Most people if they really think about it give themselves too much time, or set no deadlines whatsoever.
In wedding photography I know a lot of people will set an arbitrary amount of time with their clients for how long it takes to deliver the photos after a wedding. I’ve seen this range from anything between a week and six months. And sure, as long as your clients are happy with the amount of time it takes, no big deal.
I’m a wedding photographer, by the way, if you didn’t know. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years BC. Before corona.
I tell my clients 4 weeks. And of course it doesn’t take 4 weeks and built into that is managing a wider workload to make sure I’m not over working myself needlessly, but invariably I’ll end up editing a client’s photos in the 4th week.
If you work with client deadlines are you the same? I bet you are, unless you’re more organised or you set deadlines for yourself behind those client deadlines.
Because deadlines are great for productivity and they’re also a proven antidote to procrastination.
We procrastinate a lot as creatives. It’s the most common thing I hear people talk about when we discuss their biggest problems in and around their creativity. Procrastination.
Often, procrastination is caused by one of two things:
The first thing is having to do something we don’t want to do. In a creative business I find that to be most things that aren’t the creative thing itself.
The second thing though, is an abundance of time. And while I chose to be a full time creative to have that abundance of time in my life, and control over it, if you’re too free-spirited with it then it can lead to a whole lot of procrastination and very little getting anything done.
I’ve got a poster up on the wall of my office here which says:
“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood… What mood is that? Last minute panic!”
And I think that’s true and it’s the result of an abundance of time, an abundance of procrastination, and parkinson’s law.
Now… I too struggle with all these things. I do. But I’m also extremely organised and efficient especially with the business side of my creative business and that’s because I want to be able to do my own thing with this abundance of time in my life, rather than dragging out jobs needlessly like Parkinson’s Law says we do. And the way I keep myself organised is deadlines.
Before I entered the glamorous world of database programming, I spent some time in project management. It was deadly boring, so I didn’t do it for long, and I wasn’t especially good at it mainly because of the mind numbing boredom but I did learn some extremely useful skills which I still use to this day and the biggest one is deadlines.
Deadlines are also a great way to get around Parkinson’s Law.
We’re big picture people as creatives. We tend to see the end goal – write a book, have an exhibition, record an album… and that’s amazing. It’s what makes us so brilliant.
But each project you want to work on needs a deadline. And of course with our personal projects, or anything without a client attached to it, we need to set artificial deadlines, but then we need to stick to it with some self discipline.
Like I said before, the reason to do this is to have as much of your time free to enjoy life and broaden your horizons than being sat procrastinating over something just because you didn’t set yourself any time constraints.
And this isn’t meaning that you need to put yourself on a timer or end up rushing things just to meet silly deadlines. No. We don’t want to do that. We want to do our best work. So working out how long something realistically takes, or how long we realistically need or want to work on something, means working out how long it takes to do it well.
It’s like the six day job I mentioned earlier. If I wasn’t trying to pull the wool over my boss’ eyes, I’d have recategorised that as a half day job… I knew I could do the job to a good standard in half a day. There’s no point pulling the wool over your own eyes in your own business so for any project you need to work out – realistically – how long you need to do that work.
Now for a big project that can be dauntingly impossible to work out, so you need to break that down into the smaller components it’s made up of.
I’ll use my wedding photography again as an example.
A lot of things happen in my little studio in between getting home from a wedding with a load of photos and delivering them to the client. I won’t go through the whole process but clearly I have to download the photos from the cameras to my computer. I set myself a deadline on that small component of 24 hours after the wedding. Then I need to select the photos I’m going to edit, my personal deadline for that is 72 hours after the wedding… and so on. So this ‘four week project’ is broken down into bitesize tasks, with realistic timelines and deadlines.
If you’re writing a book set yourself a deadline to get each chapter written.
When there’s a deadline, and it’s set on a realistic amount of time it takes to actually do that piece of work, you’re far far less likely to procrastinate because as Parkinson’s Law says, you’ll use as long as you give yourself to do something. So if you give yourself the actual amount of time it takes, there’s less time to get distracted and procrastinate and much, much easier to focus.
I have a lot more to say about procrastination and why I think it can be a brilliant thing for your creative mind, done with purpose, but I’ll leave that for another day.
Spend some time this week looking at the ‘jobs’ you do as a creative and if you’ve never set yourself deadlines, give it a try. It doesn’t sound like the most creative thing to do, and of course as creatives we’re programmed to rebel against these things, but we also love getting things finished and out into the world for people to enjoy. You know I’m passionate about that.
Now I don’t have a listen, read or watch recommendation this week for you. I’m giving you a complete week off. So use your abundance of time wisely and do some stuff you love. Maybe something that you’ve not made time for in a while. Do that.
And then come back and join me again for next week’s episode.
If you’re new or you’ve missed some episodes, then stick round and have a listen.
Think positive. Stay creative. See you next time on The Positive Creatives.