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Do you work better under stress? There's a name for that.

Posted by Ken Coombs

Jun 5th, 2017

Do you work better under stress? There's a name for that.

In 1955, Cyril Parkinson wrote a humorous essay meant to critique the "efficiency" of public administration in Britain. The first sentence of that essay spawned a book (60 actually) and a whole new field of study for psychologists. That sentence was "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". That's an old-timey way of saying most of us make excuses to not do something until the last minute and then rush like mad to complete it.

For instance, have you ever:

  • Had all semester to write a paper but wait for the last minute and pull an all-nighter the day before it was due and submit it at 5:00 am?
  • Had all week to finish a proposal but waited until 4:30 on Friday to get it done?


Most people can relate to this in some way or another, even if you didn't know it had an actual name! Let me tell you about my own recent encounter with this law.

In April of 2016, I applied for and started working on a new financial designation. The course consists of 17 chapters, 17 chapter tests and one 3-hour final exam. The course had a time limit of 13 months to complete.

So, when I got my text books last April, I was all over it. I read at lunch, I read at night after the kids went to bed, I read in the morning before everyone got up. Within 3 weeks, I had already done the work for 4 chapters.

Then I stopped. "I have almost a year to get this done. I'll do it later". Then summer came (it's so nice out, I don't want to study) and fall (I'm really busy at work, no time to study) and winter (RSP season, no time. I'll study over the holidays and on vacation). Excuses. None of which are valid excuses either.

Suffice it to say, I now have 3 weeks to finish the remaining 13 chapters so I can write my exam in June. My timeline has been compressed which is forcing me to actually do the work.

So, how can I spin this into financial planning? Easy. I have met far too many clients who have said to me "I wish I would have started saving sooner" or "I'm retiring in a few years, maybe I should start planning". Both of these statements fall under Parkinson's Law... if you squint a little. Maybe you didn't save enough when you were younger because you figured you would just invest when you were older and making more money. But a funny thing happens; the more money you make, often the more money you spend.

Who plans for something that is 30-40 years into the future (retirement) when all they want to do is have a beer and watch the game? As you wait for more disposable income, your timeline is compressing, making it more and more likely that you may have to pull the equivalent of an all-nighter late in your working life and add undue stress to your life.

So, now that you know there is a name for it, what are you going to do about it?

Do you work better under stress? There's a name for that.

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