Work Is Gaseous in Nature
C. Parkinson wrote an essay, “Parkinson’s Law” for The Economist in 1955. The first sentence read, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Although this genius humorist was commenting on the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office during the decline of the British Empire, today Parkinson’s Law resonates with the rise of bureaucracy at organisations.
If I take this adage further, work can be considered gaseous in nature, as it can in theory, infinitely expand. So, it has to be contained and timeboxed. The best of us perfect our work and abandon them at the deadline. But, the smart of us know another law — Zipf’s Law.
Wait! I think I am breaking a law of narration here — “one idea at a time”. But didn’t Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, and break them like an artist.”
Anyway, a very observant linguist, George K. Zipf noticed that the most frequent word in any language is used twice as much as the second most frequent word, and thrice as much as the third most frequent word. In essence, the rich list, notes of music, population rank, and even content creators at social platforms align with Zipf’s law.
…the rich list, notes of music, population rank, and even content creators exhibit Zipf’s law.
If you have learned the top 50 words in a language, the 51st word will not make any significant change in your overall understanding of the language. That’s what I meant by smart people knowing Zipf’s Law. They implicitly understand that perfection takes a toll, and is a myth. It gets harder and harder to show a minuscule improvement with every iteration, and it requires phenomenal work. So, many of us stop pushing early — which isn’t a significant difference on the surface but a huge one underneath.
To conclude, Both at work, and personally, the best of us need to let go, and the smart among us need to commit. That’s why our internet is full of conflicting suggestions — like this post.