If you are feeling the pressure to keep up with a never-ending to-do list, it might be time for a spring clean. And today, I’d like to suggest a brain power spring clean.
Feeling time-poor is a frustrating experience – we may feel like we are constantly running from conversation to conversation (despite not having moved from our chair), our fuse may be a little shorter with colleagues (or kids) and it can feel like we will never find the time to work on the projects that really matter to us.
But this feeling of time-scarcity also has an impact on your future-self and your ability to plan ahead and solve your most important challenges. Princeton University psychology and public affairs professor Eldar Shafir, PhD, and Harvard University economist Sendhil Mullainathan, PhD, explore how people sitting in this scarcity mindset (whether that be scarcity of time, money, or even companionship) consume extra “mental bandwidth”, or brain power.
Given we only have limited brain power, this means we have less to dedicate to other areas of our lives and work. Shafir and Mullainathan call this ‘tunneling’ — “as you devote more and more to dealing with scarcity you have less and less for other things in your life, some of which are very important for dealing with scarcity”.
The solution to tunneling is to create ‘mental slack’ by freeing up time or resources. If you are feeling time-poor (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) here’s what you can do about it:
Firstly, reflect back to something you had to do that made you frustrated, you found boring, or were wondering what the point was – where possible, our goal is to eliminate these things using one or more of the following strategies:
STOP – What could you stop doing? For example, writing a report that no one reads, proofreading documents over and over (use an extension like Grammarly to help in real-time) or attending project update meetings when this information could be shared asynchronously instead.
DELEGATE – What could you give to someone else to do? For example, administrative tasks (hire a Virtual Assistant), work that would take you longer than someone else who has more refined skills in that area (e.g. working with Excel spreadsheets) or tasks you no longer find challenging but will provide a good learning opportunity for other team members (e.g. preparing a draft client proposal).
When we identify tasks or activities that can be stopped, automated or delegated, we can free up mental resources to ensure that we can focus, really effectively, on our most important priorities. And, you can also experience that ‘new you’ feeling after successfully completing a rigorous (brain power) spring clean!