Friday 24 January 2014

Experiments in the Time Space Continuum

Some years ago, when we first moved from Newcastle to the Lake District, and for reasons with which I won't bore you now, we ended up living for a year in a small cottage.

I say small: it did have four bedrooms, but as there were seven of us (family plus mother-in-law) that felt small. It had no study, of course, so I ran the business from a corner of the (small) living room, on a very small desk that now serves as a hall table.  All my files were on the bottom shelves of a bookcase, which now serves as a stationery cupboard (and is, of course, now overflowing).

We have now moved to a larger house, complete with an outbuilding and attics: and guess what? We fill the space.

I was pondering this, because I am a great believer in Parkinson's Law Here is the first paragraph of the seminal article in The Economist in which the Law was explained and explored.:
It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.
Parkinson was talking about time, yet I started by talking about space; but there is surely an intimate relationship between the two. I used to think it was Einstein who pointed this out, but have since been told it was Minkowski before him, and Proust before him, and the Incas before him.

Be that as it may, my experience with space, as demonstrated by the example above, and with time as I seek to manage it in my own life and help others to do so in theirs, is remarkably similar in this respect.

But it can work the other way, whatever the corollary ('the reverse is not true') may assert.  So this week and next, I had most of the week set aside to work on completing the first draft of my long awaited book. Yet a series of domestic crises have interrupted that precious time: on Tuesday the macerator stopped working.  If you know what a macerator does, you will understand that it was a crisis that needed an urgent solution.  Then yesterday my email software stopped working: again a crisis that needed urgent attention (and no little time).

Yet somehow, I am on track. The first eight chapters have been duly re-worked and polished and are ready to send out to a few readers; and I am confident that the rest will be done by my deadline of next Friday.

I would like (I would really, really, like) to know quite why that is.  After years of slow progress, why am I suddenly able to move it forward so quickly?  Various theories may cast some light on this. One is that I have made a firm commitment to somebody to send him the completed first draft by next Friday.  Another is that I have spent sufficient time mulling over it and my subconscious is now ready to deliver. A third is that I have reinstated my early morning run on the fell, after a slight lapse in December, which both invigorates me and increases my belief in my own will power (see my last post). 

There is probably some truth in all of those. I know the value of recruiting an 'external conscience' to help hold us to our good intentions; and I also recognise that our brains need some processing time for important and complex tasks. As for will power, that is something I do pay heed to: I know how easily I can slip into an idle mode that allows time to slip by. (As Douglas Adams, author of the Hitch Hiker's Guide, remarked: I love deadlines: I love the whooshing noise they make as they fly past!)

So all of these may be contributory factors, but I think there is something else in the mix, and am not sure what it is.  Maybe once I have sent the draft of the book off, I'll have the time to reflect more on this...


  1. Where there's a will, there's a way!

    Keep us posted on its progress.

    Best Wishes


  2. Thanks George,

    The first draft of the book was completed and sent to the friend who had offered to read and edit it by the end of the month, as promised.

    Still some way to go, but a significant milestone!