Coined by British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law is a relatable aphorism for many: “Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.”
According to Parkinson's Law, if you give one person two days and another person two weeks to finish cleaning out their basement, both will end up using all of that time to get the job done. And this will be the case even if the individual with the two-day deadline has the messier basement.
Obviously Parkinson’s Law does not apply to everyone. But it will hit very close to home for people who struggle with procrastination (around 20 percent of the population) or workaholism (around 30 percent of the population).
What does that mean for each Myers and Briggs type? Let's take a look.
Procrastination and Parkinson’s Law
There are two styles of procrastination, each of which can leave a person vulnerable to Parkinson’s Law:
When some people procrastinate they essentially replace organization with spontaneity, meaning they tend not to perform tasks they need to complete until the time seems right. This could mean they will finish a project at some random time in the middle of the week or night, when the mood suddenly strikes and fills them with a burst of energy. Or the mood may never actually strike them, in which case they will put off the project for as long as possible before scurrying to finish it in the final hours before the deadline. Spontaneous people will tend to do this regardless of whether their deadline is self-imposed or mandated by their boss or other authority.
In cases of spontaneous procrastination like this, work expands because it takes more time to finish than would normally be expected. The procrastinator will adjust their pace, unconsciously, to make the job more onerous and time-consuming than it needs to be.
In contrast to the spontaneous procrastinator, there are others who will increase the quantity of their work when they are given extra time to finish some project. They may try to tackle an assignment early, but when doing so they will end up making it more complicated than it needs to be.
For example, they may do more research than is necessary before starting their actual work. Or they may repeat certain steps over and over, trying to get them exactly right, or search for ways to produce a more impressive final result. As a result, a job that should have taken two or three days to finish may take a whole week instead. This happens because the procrastinator is a perfectionist who wants to be as thorough and detail-oriented as possible, and each extra minute invested will seem like time well spent.
In cases of perfectionism-procrastination, the work required to finish a certain task will expand in quantity, motivated by the person’s desire to achieve the best possible result.
Workaholism and Parkinson’s Law
A workaholic is someone who feels an urgent need to accomplish as much as possible. They are always on the go and, if they suddenly find themselves with some unexpected downtime, they will immediately start looking for something else to do. A workaholic simply won’t feel comfortable if they’re forced to slow down, and they will keep on accepting more assignments or responsibilities as long as they have some free hours to fill.
Another type of workaholic believes they have a moral obligation to take on as much responsibility as they can possibly handle, to be as helpful as possible to their friends, family members and communities. These are the people who can’t bring themselves to say ‘no’ to anyone, because if they turn someone down or refuse to go the extra mile it will leave them feeling guilty. So, they are always biting off more than they can chew. This type of behavior is not technically workaholism, but the behavior is clearly quite similar.
In both cases, there is a feeling of duty or responsibility that demands chronic busyness. This obviously makes the workaholic and the oh-so-helpful friend equally vulnerable to Parkinson’s Law, which as we remember states that "work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion."
Are you vulnerable to Parkinson's Law?
Now that we have some clarity about how Parkinson’s Law functions, we can begin to make some cross-correlations with the various Myers and Briggs personality types. While any of us could be impacted by Parkinson’s Law, these seven personality categories may be just a tad more vulnerable:
ESTPs don’t always think through the consequences when they make commitments, and as a result they will frequently overcommit. They often carry a heavy burden on their shoulders because they don’t manage time well and have a difficult time saying ‘no.’ Too often if you give them a decent amount of time to finish something, they will see it as an opportunity to fit in something new.
Known for their dedication and commitment to their jobs, ESTJs can easily develop workaholic-like tendencies, and thus fall prey to Parkinson's law. They can also display a high level of perfectionism that motivates them to invest as much time as they’re given into their projects and assignments (which may be a lot more time than is really necessary).
In the case of ESFPs, it's their need for excitement and stimulation that can lead them to procrastinate on projects that require focus and organization to finish them on time. If they’re given extra time to finish an assignment they can easily become distracted, meaning that they won’t buckle down and get busy until the deadline is looming over them.
Hard-working ISFJs demand so much of themselves that they may become prone to Parkinson’s Law. While their outstanding work ethic is generally a positive trait, they can become too dependent on their jobs or on other important responsibilities to generate a sense of self-worth. As a result, they can cross the line into workaholism, filling up their extra hours with strenuous tasks instead of taking the time to stop and smell the roses.
While ENFJs are good at multitasking and like staying busy most of the time, they sometimes overcommit to the point where they have little time left to unwind and relax. These hardy souls will tend to say ‘yes’ to just about anything, and if that tendency becomes habitual it can lead to a constantly expanding workload.
For the ENTP, additional time to complete any project means more days to continue exploring, investigating and absorbing information. This is the type of procrastinator that is done in by their own best intentions, as they will frequently make their projects much more time consuming and harder to finish than they have to be, driven as they are by a desire to always perform impeccably.
Among INTPs, there is actually a strong awareness of their inclination to procrastinate. They can tell you how easily they become distracted when they have a lot of time to finish a project, acknowledge their habit of becoming absorbed by details that don’t really require so much attention, and rue the perfectionism that can keep them wrapped up in an assignment longer than necessary. Give them a lot of time to work and INTPS will use up all of it, as they themselves willingly admit.
The good news is that while some personality types may be more prone to Parkinson’s Law, it's not a foregone conclusion that they will fall prey to it. Just being conscious of this tendency and knowing your own habits can go a long way in preventing chronic busyness or a spiraling lack of time management. As with most things in life, awareness and balance are key.