In 1958 Cyril Northcote Parkinson cited in his landmark productivity book, Parkinson’s Law, the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

It’s an adage that has stood the test of time – and will continue to do so. What it means is, if someone is given a task and a timeframe, they’ll use every bit of the time frame to complete the task. In other words – “people fill the time with what work they have to do”.

As an example, if you give an Accountant instructions of “you’ve got $5,000 worth of time to complete this client job”. Low and behold it’ll come out at around $5,000. How did they do that? Did they stop the clock, start the clock, speed up, go slow – or all of the above?

Or – “you’ve got to get this client work done by 3pm on Friday.” Guess what – they’ll keep working and it’ll be finished just before 3pm. How bizarre.

It’s just human nature. And the problem is this version of human nature it is counter intuitive to efficiency. Here’s another example. A personal one.

Not sure about you, but I’m a 5-minute shower guy. I live in the countryside and we have gas (in bottles) to power the hot water. Recently I had an early flight and the night prior all 4 gas bottles were dead. I like to shower each morning (with hot water) and I knew that I was in for a cold one. How long did my shower take with this new imposed deadline?

You guessed it – 30 seconds. I timed it. Parkinson’s Law in action right there.

Well – after 60 years I think that Parkinson’s Law needs an upgrade to include other resources other than time.

You see I think it applies to all resources. Time, money, people, food, equipment, and even office space!

I think a more expanding definition is …

“Resources are consumed at the rate that resources are available”

Think about it. If there is money available, it is used. If there is a volume of people at your disposal, you’ll use them. If you have available office space, you’ll fill it. If you have equipment to use, you’ll work out ways to use it.

I was even guilty of this today. We have 5 chickens and my Daughter brought home a lot of food scraps from the Thai restaurant she works at. I saw the box, so I gave ALL the scraps to the chickens. Normally they get a moderate amount of food each day. Today they ‘ate like Kings Roosters’ and ate the lot!!

Way too much food for one day for 5 chickens. They look very fat so hopefully I get extra eggs tomorrow – I highly doubt it. And that’s the point. The resources were used yet is the output any better?

I think that just because the resources are available it does not mean (once used) a better outcome is had. Sometimes it’s human nature, other times its management decisions.

Last week I was coaching an Accounting firm and I asked them “what’s your monthly revenue budget per Accountant”? Their answer – $28,000 per month. Let me guess, I said, they all achieve around $28,000. Yes, was the answer. Could they output $40K or $50K per month? Probably but management had decreed that $28K was enough. It’s no wonder this firm currently has low profits and occasional cashflow problems.

Yesterday I was cycling with my buddy Chris and we were talking about the new expanded definition (he helped me come up with it but seeing I am the first to publish it I am claiming it as mine) and he relayed a story of a tech start-up he knows that just got a ‘series A’ round of $7.5M from a large VC fund. He went on to tell me they are now moving offices “to attract a better employee” and upgrading all of their equipment.

I know where they currently housed and it’s just fine – for any level exec. But the resources are available so they’re using them – at a great rate of knots.

This discussion begs the questions:

  1. If you had less resources could the outcome be at least equal – or even better? I think so.
  2. If you had less time could you still get the task done with the same quality? I think so.
  3. If you had less money could you get creative and do it for less? I think so.
  4. If you had less office space could you still grow your business? I think so.
  5. If you ate less food could you still function normally and survive? I think so.

So, what’s it going to take to use less resources – even if they are available?

Two words – Accountability Discipline.

It takes discipline to NOT use all the resources available and for most it takes external Accountability to keep you on track. This is why the vast majority of successful companies have a board structure with an external Chairman. And why the vast majority of successful athletes have Coaches to discipline them and keep them accountable – pushing them to new heights.

How disciplined are you (and your team) and who is holding you accountable?