The growing guinea pig

Guinea PigI heard once that a guinea pig’s size maintains a relationship with the size of its cage, so that it won’t grow much bigger than the room in which it has to live. Sadly, I don’t think this has any basis in science (at least, none that I could find) and is a suburban myth, but I have used it over the years to describe a phenomenon I first encountered in my mid-twenties – the ability I had to effortlessly adjust my personal costs and lifestyle upward when I would get a raise at work.

It seemed like my spending (the guinea pig) had no problem filling up the cage (my take-home pay), no matter how big the cage got. I recently picked up on a related blog post at Signal vs. Noise that actually reveals the intellectual axiom, Parkinson’s Law, which describes this phenomenon beyond just personal finances:

Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” A more succinct phrasing also commonly used is “work expands to fill the time available.”

The context above is a work task (the pig) and the time allotted to complete it (the cage), which is also valid. The less busy you are, the longer everything seems to take. Understanding this leads to a lot of practical applications when it comes to managing your own time and workload, or other peoples’ time and workload if that’s part of your job description. Parkinson, a 1950’s management guru, has a lot of other wisdom to relate, including such gems as “Men enter local politics solely as a result of being unhappily married.”


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