Dan Schnau

Work Is A Gas

During the postwar expansion of the United Kingdom, a Naval Historian wrote about a phenomenon that explained why governments move at a glacial pace and at the same time, why it can take months to get a Pull Request merged.

In tying to yesterdy's article, "Localhost Doesn't Need To Die, Except Maybe With Venture Capital", I would like to expand on Parkinson's Law and state that work complicates to fill the available time and money.

The three states of matter (I've heard there's also something called 'plasma', but we're going off my high school physics class today) are solid, liquid, and gas. Solids retain their shape, liquids take the shape of their container, and gases expand and take the shape of their container.

Knowledge work is like a gas. it expands to take the shape of its container. It has to be. If it was solid, then knowledge workers would just be on the assembly line. If it was liquid, it would at least be easy to estimate the size of work. But knowledge work has been in the domain of Parkinson's Law since long before it was written about in The Economist in 1955: it takes up everything you give it.

Knowing this, we can rethink how work gets done. Given some arbitrary objective, and one day to do it, I will likely get it done in one day. If I give myself a week, I will take that week. If I give myself a month and a budget of five thousand dollars, I'll take a month and I'll be five grand poorer.

Of course, it is possible it can't get done in one day. The Ideal Gas Law, pV = nRT applies to gases. If I squeeze too much in to too small a space, the amount of pressure and temperature may become too much, and I will burn out.

Since Work is a gas, I think we might all benefit from squeezing work down as tight as we can, and using mindfulness techniques to be aware of the rising pressure and temperature, and use that information to blow off steam while the work gets done in the fastest, smallest container that is practical.