Scarcity, Choice Paralysis, and Time

Parched by quinn.anya

(This post was originally shared at Leading by DESIGN, where I’m a team member. It is written for ourLEAD 365 alumni, although all are welcome to read it.)

I’m reading a book right now about scarcity (appropriately titled Scarcity.) Actually, I’m listening to it as an audiobook because I have so many projects to do around the house, but I feel behind in my reading for work, so two birds, one stone.

The book intrigued me partly because I almost always feel like time is my scarcest resource, and I’m not naturally good at prioritizing what is most important versus what feels most urgent. I imagine that this is a familiar state for many of you. While I’m not ready to recommend the book (I haven’t finished it yet), it does offer some great insights into how we as humans behave when faced with scarcity, whether that is a scarcity of money, time, calories, relationships, whatever.

We tend to focus on the thing that we don’t have enough of. Ever tried to diet by counting calories? Suddenly food takes a much larger place in your mind, and you spend more time and energy thinking about food and what you can and can’t have.

On the other side of this we have choice paralysis, spending too much energy trying to decide when faced with too many choices. I’ve read that some of our most successful, powerful leadersMark Zuckerberg and President Obama among them—wear the same outfit every day, basically a uniform of sorts, in order to free up mental space for other decisions. (Becoming Minimalist, I blog I really like, has an article on that here, if you’re interested.)

Next month we teach Leading Yourself to one of our cohorts (the session formerly known as Personal Management). As we prepare for this day, I find myself thinking more about time management. I’m not good at time management. I have too little time (scarcity) and so many different things that I can spend my time on, especially on the days when I work from home and the yard work, laundry, and camper remodel call to me just as much as my work calls to me (choice paralysis). Throw my impulsivity into the mix and we have a recipe for last-minute blog posts (ahem) and other important things that just don’t get done. I don’t believe that’s the mark of a great leader.

So what do we do with all of this? I read a blog post recently by Jocelyn Glei that resonated strongly with me (Productivity Is Really About What You Don’t Do). In it, she listed some rules of what she will not do while working, and wow, did it hit home for me. I sat down and listed some of my own Nos for my work day, some of which I shameless stole from her.

  • No email before 10:00 am. (This one is HARD for me.)
  • No unscheduled (aka impulsive) work before 11:00 am.
  • No Facebook until after lunch.
  • No household chores until after lunch, and then on breaks only or if already scheduled.
  • No starting the day without a list of what is most important to accomplish.

It’s a small list, and I’m already impressed with how much more productive I’ve been since putting this into practice. I’m a morning person by nature, and my work day generally starts at 7:30 or 8:00 am. I can put in a good two and a half hours (or five Pomodoros) of productive work in the morning no problem, and I feel so much better about my choices for the rest of the day if I’ve done some heave head-down work first thing.

How about you? Are you one of those leaders I so admire who can naturally prioritize your time and energy, or are you playing the balance game right along with me? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Until next time, lead on!

Image by quinn.anya. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

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