When rates of transcription from specific genes change, delays of variable length intervene before the corresponding mRNAs and proteins attain new levels. For most mammalian genes, the time required to complete transcription, processing, and transport of mRNA is much shorter than the period needed to achieve a new, steady-state level of protein. Studies of inducible genes have shown that the period required to attain new levels of individual mRNAs and proteins is related to their unique half-lives. The basis for this is a physical principle that predicts rates of accumulation of particles in compartmental systems. The minimum period required to achieve a new level is directly proportional to product half-lives because rates of decay control the ratio between the rate of synthesis and the concentration of gene products at steady state. This kinetic model suggests that sensitivity of gene products to degradation by ribonucleases and proteinases is an important determinant of the time scale of gene expression.