How Parkinson’s Law Makes Good Musicians Great

Everyone aspires to make their dreams a reality, but Parkinson’s Law teaches us why dreaming alone won’t help you reach your goals.

We live in a society built on the idea of busyness. If you’re not busy, people say, then you’re not doing enough. You need to be working toward something if you want to become the person whose lead everyone follows. You should bury yourself in work because that is the only way to get ahead, right?


Nearly seventy years ago, author C. Northcote Parkinson wrote an essay for The Economist. In it, Parkinson proposed the following, which is now known as Parkinson’s Law.

“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Here are two examples of Parkinson’s Law in action.

#1 – A teacher assigns a student an essay due in one month. The student knows the essay will not take a month to complete, so they procrastinate. They spent almost the entire month playing with friends, listening to music, and ignoring the assignment. As the deadline approaches, the student panics and then spends all of the time remaining working on their essay. It’s stressful, and it creates a sense of anxiety that may not have occurred if the essay was written when the teacher assigned the work.

#2 – Your boss gives you two weeks to plan a birthday party for your coworker. Ordering a cake and sending out party invitations doesn’t take long to do, so you begin thinking of more complicated tasks to complete. You add a DJ to the event, then special lighting. Before you know it, the simple task of planning a party has become complicated because you had more time to complete it than was necessary.

Both examples can help us understand Parkinson’s Law. In the case of the essay, the student’s procrastination leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety. In the party’s case, the tasks were too simple for the amount of time given for their completion.

Vague and incorrect deadlines can make us fall short of our goals. In today’s Music Biz update, host James Shotwell applies Parkinson’s Law to the music business and teaches professionals how to have better, more efficient careers.

People often set ambitious goals with vague deadlines. They say things like, “this is the year I release my album,” but don’t select a release date. They dream of finding a manager but make no clear plan to locate one.

Generally speaking, the most successful musicians and music professionals are those who manage their time best. They set realistic deadlines and meet them.

Instead of saying, “I want to find a manager,” say, “I’m going to find a manager this month.” Then, make goals for each week. Maybe you spend the first-week researching managers and gathering materials you want to share with them. You spend the second week contacting those managers. The third week is spent researching more names and companies if the first batch doesn’t work out. Then, on the final week, you send follow-ups and prepare to repeat the process the following month.

The key is not having a single deadline, but multiple. Set a long-term goal and short-term goals that keep you on track to reach a significant accomplishment down the line.

You can find other examples in the video above.

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How Parkinson’s Law Makes Good Musicians Great