The Power of Parkinson's Law for Photographers

The Power of Parkinson's Law for Photographers

Once you learn how to make Parkinson's law work for you as a photographer, you'll be taking your career to a whole new level in no time.

Some of you may have heard the term Parkinson's law in the past, but for those who have never come across the concept before, I'll briefly explain it in a sentence. Parkinson's law is the idea that any task you have will expand to fill the time available you give it for its completion. The first and most universal example that springs to mind is that of an assignment set while at school. I think many of us can relate to being given a deadline by our teachers, and although we may have had weeks to complete the task, we ended up leaving things to the very last minute and somehow the job still got done. Another example of Parkinson's law in action would be when you have no deadline set at all. You may have the fairly straightforward job of writing your first resume, but because no one is cracking the whip, you start to slack off, maybe writing the odd sentence here and there. Before you know it, months have passed and that task that could have been completed in a few hours has expanded out of control.

Fast-forward a few decades and I can still see similar patterns forming in my professional life. Ever been on a photo shoot where regardless of the number of shots required, it still manages to take all day? I've worked in busy photography studios where it didn't matter if there were 20, 40 or 80 items of clothing on the rail, they all were still photographed. The same can be said for that important image which needs a lot of retouch work. Even if you only have a few hours before a deadline, you still manage to pull out all the stops and deliver on time. Work expands (or in some cases, contracts) to the time you give it and although you may not have had a label such as Parkinson's law to attached to it before, I'm sure you have experienced this concept in many areas of your life.  

Parkinson's law can be both a good and a bad thing for photographers. Having very little time sure does focus the mind and can allow you to be incredibly productive in a short space of time. The opposite can be true when you have all the time in the world and you may find yourself doing very little at all. It's for these reasons that it's important that you can spot Parkinson's law in action and use it best to your advantage.

How Can Parkinson's Law Help Photographers?

If you want to finish off that project you've been working on for ages or perhaps get around to learning that photographic technique you've been putting off, here are a few strategies to help you make the most of Parkinson's law.

1. The Power of the Deadline

Image by RawPixel.com via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

This might seem like an obvious one, but giving yourself real deadlines is by far the best way to improve as a photographer. If you feel that you are disciplined enough to do this by yourself, then great. I personally like to make these deadlines a little more real as it's all too easy to not meet them when they are penciled in on your calendar. Tell that client, magazine, or website that they will have their images by a certain date, and I guarantee that having that external element in place will make sure it happens.

2. Become Accountable

Following on from the last point I find that Parkinson's law works great for me when I tell the world what I'm doing. Make an announcement on social media or send messages to all the people involved with your project that the images will go live on a certain date. There's nothing better at focusing the mind, and if you value your reputation, then you'll make sure you deliver when you say you will. I use this technique occasionally on Instagram when I feel a project could run and run if I let it. I'll post a teaser video or image on my profile and give an exact time that people will be able to see the work. I haven't missed an announcement date yet.  

3. Let Money Motivate You

Commit to renting that fancy lens for a particular weekend or hiring that cool location or model and you'll be surprised how productive you become leading up to the shoot. If wasting money is more of a motivator than damaging your reputation, then use this strategy to pin down a date and get that project you've been meaning to do finally done. How about signing up for a workshop or buying a tutorial? Once that money leaves your bank account, you really are committed.

4. Enter Competitions

If you're struggling to find the topic of your next project or you find yourself floundering around between big shoots, then use the deadline of a competition to help get the juices flowing. Having a completion date cast in stone and adding the competition element into the mix is a great way to stay productive photographically.

5. Make Promises

Image by RawPixel.com via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

Committing yourself to others is another way of making sure things get done. We've all let ourselves down in the past, but do you really want to let your friend or a colleague down? Make a promise to someone that you'll go to that photographic exhibition and there's much more of a chance it will actually happen.  

So there you have it, just a few ways you can use Parkinson's law to your advantage as a photographer. External forces like deadlines and making promises to people can really help to focus the mind when other internal motivational tactics have failed. The main reason for writing this article was to help highlight how very real Parkinson's law is and how a few small changes in your behavior can really benefit and accelerate your career as a photographer. Just remember that work always expands into the time you give it, so use that time wisely.

Were you already aware of Parkinson's law? Do you use any tactics to help you become more productive? I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

Lead image by JESHOOTS.com via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

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20 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Now that I know what it's really about (I've never heard of this law before) I'm going back and reflecting on almost everything I've had to do in my career or school and understanding how true to life this is for me. Very heavy stuff.

Honestly, I thought this was going to be about image stabilization...

Paul Parker's picture

Hey Michael, I still am very much controlled by Parkinson's law and any person I talk to about it seems to be too. Being aware of it really does change everything.

Sorry I can't help you with your image stabilization!

Adam Henderson's picture

I absolutely do this without thinking about it. It's always "I want to do this." "I'm thinking about doing that." And never actually doing anything.

Well, a few days ago, I decided to start a 100 day Challenge for myself. Set up my business and have 20 sessions completed and/or booked by Oct 18, 2018. It's forcing me to sit down every day and work on small goals in order to get to the bigger goals, and I'm holding myself accountable by posting about it on my blog and Instagram.

Paul Parker's picture

Amazing news Adam! By telling the world with your comment you're becoming even more accountable. The more people you tell the better. Crazy how much it focuses the mind.

Whats your IG page I'll take a look?

Adam Henderson's picture

My personal IG is admarhenderson, but the one I set up for the new venture is hendersonportraits.

Paul Parker's picture

I'll check em out thanks! All the best with your work. :)

Christos Dikos's picture

Never heard the term, but have certainly followed this law all too often. Great article, thanks!

Paul Parker's picture

Thanks Christos, when I first learned the name and concept I realized the same as you. By understanding it you can try to make the most of it...

Thanks for stopping by : )

Deleted Account's picture

Thanks for the nudge, Paul

Paul Parker's picture

You're very welcome James, writing the article was a good nudge for me too!

Lou Bragg's picture

I don’t want to spend too much time writing this comment because of the Parkinson’s law. Good article!

Paul Parker's picture

Hahaha thanks Lou! Just remember that the task will expand into the time you give it. :)

Michael Coen's picture

Honestly never knew this phenomenon had a name! As a student, I completely understand what you're talking about, especially when given several large papers concurrently. I always think "there's no way I'm going to get this done," but because I know that I have a deadline and that the quality of my grades depend on finishing, I always manage. Great read, thank you.

Paul Parker's picture

Hey Michael, glad to hear I'm not the only one who experienced this phenomenon back in school. Question is, do you still ever experience it?

I do alllllll the time. From buying gifts, to building websites, to taking the next step in my career.

For me, the task really does expand into the time I give it or am forced to give it...

Michael Coen's picture

Absolutely I do, and I imagine I will up until the time I graduate next year. I start all of my assignments early with the intention of getting it done ahead of time, and once I start I'm like "I started early, I'll be just fine."

Outside of school, I tend not to do it that much with the exception of, as you mentioned, furthering my career which, in my case, means doing to footwork to start my photography business. I haven't done enough in that arena, but that's another issue with a variety of circumstances, both self-inflicted and external.

Paul Parker's picture

The great thing is you're awear of these phenomena happening. Most people go through their lives and not see it happening. Because you can see it you can put things in place to minimize their negative effects or even help them work positively for you.

All the very best with your education & career :)

Paul Scharff's picture

I have client deliverable commitments, which solves my problem.

Paul Parker's picture

I hear you Paul! Loosing a client because you miss a deadline sure does focus the mind.

How about in your personal projects or building your brand/business. Ever feel Parkinson's law at play?

Robert Bell's picture

I wish I knew this 20 years ago!!

Paul Parker's picture

Same Robert! although many people go through life never knowing about this law...