HI FRIENDS, how’ve ya been! My weekdays and weekends have been unexpectedly jam-packed recently and we’re fast approaching the end of April so I’m finding myself rushing about tying up loose ends in an attempt to cross off the pending items on my to-do list before the end of the month.
And this got me thinking.
Remember what uni (college) was like? You start off every semester with the best intentions – no last minute work this time, nu-uh –but somehow end up repeatedly playing yourself; how did this happen again?! you whisper to yourself as you pull yet another desperate all-nighter: eyelids taped open, red bull coursing through your veins, fingers flying furiously across the keyboard racing against the sunrise in a pathetic attempt to slap together your final assignments before the deadline.
And this. kept. happening. You knew about your deadlines weeks, months, sometimes even an entire year in advance but the road to hell is paved with good intentions and on the very last day, at the very last hour, you’ll still find yourself schizophrenically rearranging commas and full-stops, questioning every single word you’ve written up to that point. (Nevertheless? Meanwhile? Have I used “therefore” too many times?!?!”)
I’ve thankfully hopped off the school bus since then and started work, so my procrastination isn’t nearly as dramatic nowadays. Some people might disagree with me but school (and uni, specifically) was wayy harder than work; it was far more intensive, you had classes to go to, constant deadlines to meet – and these aren’t petty “shoot out a couple of e-mails” type deadlines – every so often I had to give birth to volumes of tedious academic writing. The gestation period of a human baby is nine months; in that same time-frame I had to spit out over 25,000 words (coherently strung together into solid pieces of writing) and that took FAR more than two days of labour, lemme tell you that.
Not that I can claim to know what actual childbirth is like. But at least with deadlines you give away the pain, not carry it home wailing in a basket. (*I’m kidding, you can laugh at me if/when I ever go through it myself.)
At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if you’re given three days, two weeks, six months, or six months plus a two-day extension… You know you’re not going to be done until the very last second.
You’re even trained to think this way in high school: if you finish your test early, flip to the front, take it from the top and check everything. And once you’re done, do it again. Careless mistakes are your mortal enemy and every extra second must be spent trying to weed them all out. Don’t even think about handing it in before the set deadline; if you’ve finished early maybe you’ve just done it all wrong.
Welcome to Parkinson’s Law.
Hate to burst your bubble, but that two day extension to your deadline just means it’ll take you two days longer to finish it. In other words, the amount of time which one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete it; how long you are given is how long you’ll take.
You know what I’m talking about.
Stuck at work for eight hours and only have a single-page memo to complete for the day? You’ll either take eight whole hours to finish it – by starting first thing in the morning and then dragging it over the rest of the day – or you’ll put it off until “later”, 9gag until your brain is numb and then spit something out in the final half-hour before clock-out by riding the last-minute adrenaline
You know what they say, “if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do”.
Parkinson’s Law is conventionally used to describe a productivity problem – specifically, the management of time and tasks.
But if you think a little creatively, this principle can be applied to pretty much everything and once you realize this, you’ll start seeing it everywhere.
“Data expands to fill the space available for storage.”
If you had a million tetrabyte hard drive, you’d just bulk-torrent every TV show and movie in the history of film-making and never have to delete again. Until you ran out of space, which we both know you eventually would.
“Clothing will expand to fill all the available wardrobe space”.
The only wardrobe in existence that might’ve ever been “too big” was the one that lead to Narnia.
The opposite is also true though: work, data, clothing will also contract to fit if you’re given a limited time/space. If you’re taking a budget flight to Bali and need to squeeze a week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on bag, you’ll make it work somehow. And if you run out of storage space on your phone, you’ll find a way to delete enough selfies and food pics that never made it onto Instagram just to avoid backing up your photos.
So it’s probably more accurate to say that Parkinson’s Law dictates that you’ll always make stuff FIT exactly into whatever space you give it, big or small.
Anddd… (you know it’s coming)… This totally applies to your money too, y’know.
Financially Careless Mamat kept up with the Joneses and fell victim to Parkinson’s Law by making his expenses fit exactly into his income, and in doing so, spent all the money he made every month and lived paycheck-to-paycheck. By allowing his lifestyle to inflate, it didn’t matter if his paycheck ever got bigger; he just stretched his spending to match.
If Parkinson says that work expands to fill the time you get given, your spending can (and will) expand to fill the income you’re given, if you allow it to. If you upgrade to a bigger wardrobe, the empty hangers are just an excuse to buy more clothes. Similarly, a bigger paycheck is the perfect excuse to get new stuff, go on a lavish holiday, or upgrade to a better car. But the converse is also true: if you suddenly find that money is tight you’ll definitely start pinching pennies and making every cent count until your next paycheck comes in.
In Brunei there’s a whole phenomenon based on this tide which is so deeply ingrained in local culture that people plan their weekly grocery trips and errands according to it. AVOID (!!) trips to the supermarkets, the petrol stations, and any of the busiest shopping areas in the week of terima (payday)! Unless you want to deal with insane traffic situations that make rush hour look like a joke or fight your way through the snaking queues in front of every ATM and cashier. Restaurants are ringing up order after order of lobster teppanyaki, family snack platters, surf and turf specials – business is booming, everyone’s won a mini-lottery!
The week before payday though? Bulan tua is the ~perfect~ time to go out because the country’s turned into a ghost town of broke folk who are sitting around at home eating leftovers.
No matter how much you earn – little or lots – succumbing to Parkinson’s Law (which btw isn’t a law in the strict sense, it’s just an adage/phrase) means that you’ll just wind up spending everything you’ll ever make anyway. And falling into that trap means you’ll never make “enough money”, never be able to build a decent savings, and basically never be able to unchain yourself from your office desk cos you’ve sold your soul to the work devil.
Considering humans are the most sophisticated and evolved species on earth, we can be so stoopid, despite our best intentions. The temptation to just use up all your money is practically irresistible, it’s there right and a little voice inside your head is telling you that money is meant to be spent and enjoyed – so what’s the point of keeping it? So even if you don’t need or necessarily want to spend it, you’ll find things to spend on. A few extra hundred rattling about in my bank account this month? Great! I guess I could get a hoverboard.
Sometimes we’re guilty of simply spending money because “we can” (like buying fancy frou-frou $6.90 drinks with every meal that we don’t really want, let alone finish) or because “everyone else does it” (girls get monthly manipedis so I guess I have to too?) or because of conveniently placed temptations that you don’t really think about (why do you think supermarkets keep the candy bars next to the cashiers?).
And Bruneians – man, we’re a funny bunch – we have this nonsensical (and usually wasteful) purchasing philosophy that truly boggles the mind… “alang-alang.“ Only one chocolate bar? Alang-alang jua eh, buy three! Shopping for a new work blouse, or getting an outfit tailored? Alang-alang bah sebuting atu, better get two or three done in one go!
(Alang-alang is difficult to translate; kind of “not here, not there.” For instance, if you were to eat seven slices of pizza and leave the last slice in the fridge, that’s alang-alang – you might as well just finish the whole thing. Or don’t ever just buy one of something, you might as well “stock up” and buy a few.)
Sometimes the alang-alang thing makes sense, especially if there’s a bulk offer on something you definitely use quite regularly (like toothpaste, toiletries, snacks you frequently enjoy.) But if you’re going to buy multiples of something “just because” and have the extras sitting around on a shelf collecting dust – c’mon now that’s just wasteful, pointless, and needlessly adding to your clutter.
An important way to break free of Parkinson’s Law is to exercise your spending awareness. Open your third eye and really, consciously think about the purchases you make.
Are you spending just for the sake of spending? Do you really need that coffee everyday or do you just get one because all your colleagues do and you “might as well” join in? Do you really need or even want to potong baju and tailor new work clothes or did you just happen to walk past a fabric store and pick out some kain because it caught your eye? Do you actually want to eat steak or are you just ordering it because it’s the most popular (and conveniently most expensive) thing on the menu?
Your needs and wants are one thing, and it’s important to list them out, define them, and prioritize them. But blindly spending for the sake of using up all your money (because it’s there) is another beast entirely.
With a storage-full hard-drive or a wardrobe that’s bursting at the seams, the solution isn’t too difficult. Just delete the movies you’ve already watched and weed out some of your old clothing, right? Well unfortunately unspending your money isn’t that easy. Far too many people take on expensive purchases and prolonged commitments – especially cars – by comforting themselves with the false security of “well I could always sell it“.
In theory, that makes perfect sense. In practice, however, it’s not quite that simple. Even if you did go through the hassle of selling your stuff, you’ll almost definitely sell at a huge loss compared to the price you’d originally paid so I’d say that’s a pretty crap investment.
If you’re already tracking your expenses – that’s fantastic! Let’s take it up a notch – while you’re doing that, consciously try to be more aware of what you’re spending on. Are they needs? Are they wants? Are they silly little purchases you’re making just because?
Don’t ignore the big hole that mindless spending is making in your pocket!