Sunday, July 14, 2013

What busy professionals and the working poor have in common

Most busy professionals view the working poor who struggle from paycheck to paycheck with barely veiled contempt.  These holier-than-thou Whole Foods shoppers marvel at the poor decisions of the poor, whether in consumption of fast food, using payday loans, or worst of all, buying lottery tickets.

What these yuppies don't realize is that they're doing the equivalent of binging on Big Macs when it comes to managing their time.  Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan explains:
"Workers who log 60-plus hour weeks gripe that they don't have enough room in their schedule to even tame their inboxes, much less think about big projects in some creative way.

But time isn't the problem, says Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan. The ultimate barrier to success is a shortage of mental "bandwidth," or the ability to focus on a task in the moment.

What they've discovered is that shortages lead people to make poor decisions. That's because the brain can only process so much.

The problem extends across income levels. Busy professionals fail to schedule their time in efficient ways for the same reasons low-income people fall for predatory lending schemes. They're distracted, Shafir says.

Take an example from your own life: If you're thirsty, and desperately want water, it's hard to think about anything else. If you're low on money, budget concerns frequently pop into your thoughts.

The same is true in the professional world. A lack of time isn't the issue; a lack of focus is."
I've noticed this very effect at work...the busier people get, the more they struggle with taking the time to focus and really think.  How many times have you heard others (or yourself) say things like, "We don't have time for this discussion right now!" or "I don't want to think about that right now."

The same people who criticize others for bad decision-making when it comes to food or money are just as guilty when it comes to their own time!

When you find yourself with a time shortage, carve out the time to focus and make good decisions, rather than falling into the Big Mac trap.

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