Working Smarter Instead of Harder Equals Working Happier

“Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time available for its completion – means that if you give yourself a week to complete a two hour task, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting so as to fill that week. It may not even fill the extra time with more work, but just stress and tension about having to get it done. By assigning the right amount of time to a task, we gain back more time and the task will reduce in complexity to its natural state.

“I once read a response to Parkinson’s Law insinuating that if it were an accurate observation, one would be able to assign a time limit of one minute to a task and the task would become simple enough to complete within that minute. But Parkinson’s Law is exactly that – an observation, not some voodoo magic. It works because people give tasks longer than they really need, sometimes because they want some ‘leg room’ or buffer, but usually because they have an inflated idea of how long the task takes to complete. People don’t become fully aware of how quickly some tasks can be completed until they test this principle.

“Most employees who defy the unwritten rule of “work harder, not smarter” know that, despite the greater return on investment for the company, it’s not always appreciated. That’s related to the idea that the longer something takes to complete, the better quality it must inherently be.” – Joel Falconer

With regards to creative endeavors, especially writing and drawing, I think there’s a huge amount of value to be found in the observations above. There are a few maxims about creativity which I absolutely believe to be true: one is that good artists are versatile, and so are good writers. The specific content of the work – genre, subject matter, etc. – matters far less than the will to bring it into being, because what is important is understanding that the ability is ALREADY THERE. You simply have to use it, and it shouldn’t cause anxiety and stress to use something you already have.

So much time is lost not because of an inability to do the work, but because self-doubt allows you to hesitate, to justify slowness or delays or interruptions until circumstances are ready, or you find that right reference, or you’re in a better mood, or FedEx arrives with the art supply order with that one brush that you like.

People ask me how long it takes to do the illustrations in my Imaginarium Geographica novels, and I usually tell them each picture took one to three days to draw. Some took far longer – but more than HALF of the drawings in THE FIRST DRAGON, fifteen of them to be exact, took just EIGHT DAYS. Because a deadline I hadn’t realized was there suddenly showed up, and there was no time for delay, or any excuses, or anything except productivity, at the peak of my abilities. I had to be in Flow, or in what the Chinese call “Wu-wei” which literally translates as “no trying” or “no doing,” which is actually about doing optimally, unconsciously, efficiently, brilliantly, and to all outward appearances, effortlessly.

The result was that fifteen of the twenty-four illustrations in that book took less time to complete than three or four of the drawings that had far more time for me to work with, but with NO noticeable differences. With perhaps one or two exceptions, I myself couldn’t tell you which all of them were, and if I can’t tell, then there’s a huge truth contained in those illustrations: the ability was already there. I simply had to choose to use it.

I think Parkinson’s Law is correct, but if so, it’s because it is also largely a choice, made to work because we allow it to. And if that’s true, then I think it’s just as possible for the inverse to be true: that given the ability and the will, a way can be found to do quality work in far less time than you thought you needed, and with calm,unhurried contentment instead of anxiety and worry. Working smarter, not harder. Working with confidence, not fear. And simply DOING IT, because you believe and know you can, instead of spending all of your time trying to convince yourself and others that a visible struggle equals a visible effort equals a greater quality equals a greater value.

The value is in simply doing the work you have the desire to do as efficiently as you are able; the Flow, the Wu-wei, comes from knowing you have the ability to do it; and the happiness comes from being engaged in a process that is about doing what you love instead of being anxious about it.

This doesn’t mean that you can paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling in a week, or write Anna Karenina in a day – the lines are the lines and the words are the words and the work still has to be done (I wanted to do those fifteen drawings in SEVEN days, but it just wasn’t going to happen.) And not everyone’s skills are going to be up to their ambitions – yet. But you DO know the things you are already good at, and those are the things that you shouldn’t doubt or hesitate over. Some things are hard, and may take time to figure out. But some things aren’t. You get to decide. So set a goal, make your choice, and show the world something AMAZING. I believe in you. And I believe in me, too – so I’m going to get out of my own way and go get some awesome things done. I hope you all have a great weekend.

– James

About caveo

James has written and illustrated six books in the bestselling series The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: Here, There Be Dragons; The Search For The Red Dragon; The Indigo King; The Shadow Dragons; The Dragon’s Apprentice; and The Dragons of Winter. The series is now being published in more than twenty languages. A seventh volume, The First Dragon, will conclude the series in November 2013.

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