Monthly review – escaping the time scarcity mindset

It is quite funny to be writing my monthly review on time scarcity late into the month and after a month where I missed writing my review all together! But it actually shows how I am working towards changing my mind on how I view time.

A few years ago, I would have stayed up to midnight or later to make sure the post would go ahead on time, regardless of the fall out of being exhausted the next day or whether or not writing that post was the best use of the time I had available.

September and October were peak months for one of my habits for the year of school involvement. At the kids’ primary school we held our major biannual fundraiser and I was part of the organising team. It took a lot of work to put the event together, a couple of people on the team did an outstanding amount of work and myself and others also contributed significantly.

There were times in early October when I could feel a sense of overwhelm creeping in and when I did, I made myself stop and change the story that was going on inside my head. Inside my head I would be running through every single thing that I needed to do that week for work, school and family and shudder at how much I had to fit in with so little time. I deliberately changed the thoughts that were floating in my head. I would acknowledge that this was a peak period for school, that I had same amount of time as everyone else and I had enough time to do the key tasks. I would just need to be smarter about where I decided to spend my time and how I would plan my time out.

This may sound like a tiny change to make, but it is actually quite significant. I would use my to do list without fail, often planning out whole weeks at a time and sometimes hour by hour for days with lots of deadlines.

This would prevent me from getting distracted, feeling overwhelmed or procrastinating by working on other things that weren’t going to help me achieve what I had to for the week. I had my goal for the year as my key decision making filter and I had to make many choices on letting some things go over the month – like my monthly review!

Economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir authors of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, would call my first mindset one of “time scarcity” and if I continued on with those thoughts and behaviours falling out from that, I would have fallen into the Scarcity trap:

Scarcity trap: a situation where a person’s behaviour contributes to her scarcity.

Ever been incredibly pushed for time but found yourself sitting down reading a newspaper for longer than you could afford? Ever had a significant deadline to work on but found yourself attending to emails and social media instead?

When we are feeling time scarcity it changes our behaviour and it “makes us less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled.” So if we focus on feeling like we are behind in our work and have deadlines we which are too tight, those feelings are enough to impact our productivity.

As Eldar Shafir shares in his TEDx talk (if you are reading via email and cannot see the video above, please click here) conditions of scarcity produces its own psychology. In the presentation he talks about the irony of scarcity which impacts the poor of time or money:

Irony of scarcity

Poor must make higher quality decisions

  • Packing problems are harder under scarcity
  • More temptations under scarcity
  • Can’t afford mistakes under scarcity

Poor are in worse position to make quality decisions

  • Distracted by scarcity & related stressors/tradeoffs
  • Depleted by challenges/temptations/vigilance
  • Unappreciated! We tend not to recognise scarcity’s challenges

Reflecting on how I behave when I feel time poor, it ticks all the above boxes. I don’t however feel like that when I acknowledge I have 24 hours in a day like everyone else and use my single goal and to do list to let me get through the tasks that are most important. I am doing what Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir call tunnelling:

One insight of the psychology of scarcity is the need to prepare for tunnelling and to insulate against neglect: navigate so that bad choices are harder to make in a single moment of tunnelling, and arrange it so that good behaviours require little vigilance yet are occasionally reevaluated.

So for October to work towards my single goal, I had to let some smaller things slide and I have since reevaluated my time allocation again now my school volunteer roles have almost finished for the year. Becoming aware of having a mindset of time scarcity was critical in me preventing the snowball affect that it can have and allow me to feel more in control of my time.

How are you progressing with your goal for 2017? Do you have a mindset of time scarcity?

HabitConnection to goalOctoberReview
To make three phone calls a week to family and friendsI am terrible at making phone calls. For friends and family that are not near me, this is a great way to stay connected and I have to change my attitude towards making calls.

The best way to change my attitude is to act, so I am going to set a target of three phone calls to make each week.

I also think there will be a natural flow on effect from making phone calls to seeing people in person more too.
First half of October was quiet, but I made great advances in the last couple of weeks to catch up.
To be an active participant in a parent body at each of the three schoolsOver the last couple of years, my focus has been more inward and I haven't been as heavily involved in the kids' schools as I used to be.

This has left me feeling less connected, so by stepping up my involvement I hope to increase my feeling of connection.
The peak involvement has passed and it is now a much smaller level of involvement until the end of the year.
To organise family or friend catch ups twice a monthI always feel better after catching up with family and friends, but unless I put it top of mind, it is something that can not happen.I still did manage to catch up with family and friends over this time and I really made an effort to be available to a couple of friends who needed it at this time.
To do one activity at home or out each weekend with the kidsAs the first two kids have grown up, I realise I haven't been doing as many group things with the kids as I did when the older ones were younger. It doesn't need to be fancy or long, but spending time with the kids like this brings me great joy.

While ideally I would love all five kids to be involved in this weekly activity, the reality is that the lives of the two older boys and the ages they are mean this won't happen very often. I will however still encourage it and make sure the younger kids and I do something together.
I have rode a bike more times in the last couple of months that I have in years! The kids and I and their dad are enjoying Sunday bike rides amongst other things at the moment.