Your Dissertation: Combating Parkinson’s Law

By Ted Cross, EdD
Adjunct Faculty, College of Doctoral Studies

An aerial view of the Pentagon

Recently, I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. and had the chance to tour the Pentagon. Amazingly, this building, the largest in the world when it was built, was completed in 18 months!

This really got me thinking: “If the Pentagon could be built in 18 months, why does it take forever to finish a freeway?”

And, more personally: “Why do I take forever to get tasks completed?”

The answer, I believe, is encapsulated in what is known as Parkinson’s Law. This law simply states “…that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” (Parkinson, 1955, p.1).

In short, we will use all available time for a task whether that timeframe is short or long. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but data and further experience seem to prove Parkinson’s point.

Ever cranked out a 10-page paper in a matter of hours?

I have begun experimenting with this principle in my academic endeavors and have found that when I put myself on an artificial deadline, things get done in a much shorter time period. Also, I have discovered that Parkinson’s Law is as much about focused effort as it is about time management (Ferris, 2007).

Here some applications I have been using that may be useful for your own work:

  • Focus only on one task at a time (turn off the email and phone for a few minutes) (Ferris, 2007)
  • Use a timer on your computer and give yourself set amounts of time to complete a given task (Ferris, 2007)
  • Give yourself mini-goals. For example: I will grade five assignments in 20 minutes
  • Hold yourself accountable to your deadlines

This may seem like simple advice. But then again, I just wrote this post in 20 minutes.

What ways can you think of to beat Parkinson’s Law while you are writing your dissertation?

I would suggest creating specific deadlines for yourself using your individual success plan (ISP) and then breaking those deadlines into smaller chunks. What do I need to do monthly, weekly and daily to get to my goal?

Then, get a stop watch and get to work.

Learn more about doctorate degree programs in GCU’s College of Doctoral Studies by visiting our website.

References:

Parkinson, C. Northcote (1955). Parkinson’s Law. The Economist.

Ferriss, Timothy (2007). The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich. Crown Publishing Group. 

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