Monday, August 24, 2009

The Grand Unified Theory of Work

I propose a new theory: the Grand Unified Theory of Work. The theory states that the duration required to complete a task--no matter how necessary or entertaining--expands to fill any time allotted to it. Which is to say that it is impossible to speed along your work at anything simply by spending more time on it.

I have heard simpler versions of this theory proposed in past; these earlier versions, however, relate only to unpleasant tasks, such as work or household chores. The novel contribution of my theory (making it both Grand and Unified) is the discovery that this property holds regardless of the enjoyment of the aforementioned task. Writing an essay? Cleaning your house? Writing your marriage vows? Laying tracks on your model train set? In my theory, the distinction is irrelevant. If you have ten free hours or a hundred, that's how long it will take.

This summer, I have had the opportunity countless experiments testing this theory. For the sake of science, I have taken it upon myself to perform a slew of activities in my everyday life. Practicing my guitar, working on my research, knitting, updating my blog -- despite the greatly-increased availability of time in my quotidian experience, I progress in them no faster than when living as a full-time student.

What a surprising result! I was expecting this summer to be an endless fount of blog posts, musical extravaganzas, and endless entertaining reading. I am now, however, quite uncertain as to where exactly my free time has gone.

These results propose some interesting followup research. Previous results had suggested that this effect was due to the inherent unpleasantness of the task to be performed -- given the opportunity, any sane person would put off working on a homework assignment until it became pressing. We now know, however, that there is some other limiting factor at work. Playing the guitar is fun! Writing blog posts is (arguably) entertaining! If it's not lack of time that limits these activities, what mysterious force is at work here?

A potentially more dangerous line of inquiry would address whether this affect can be manipulated. By taking on jobs with earlier deadlines, can one's productivity be thereby increased? Taken to the extreme, could a person with an infinite number of hobbies be infinitely productive?

We must explore this. For science.

In between conducting experiments, I have had the occasion to participate in a number of entertaining diversions this summer.

L and I walked through a magical door and were transported back in time to the 70s, where we went to an awesome music festival in remotest British Columbia.

Also, I went to a wedding.

So that was fun.