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
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
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.