133: How (Time) Scarcity Mindset Screws You Up

133: How (Time) Scarcity Mindset Screws You Up

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Scarcity mindset is the perception that you don’t have enough. And because you believe you don’t have enough—whether it be money, food, time, anything—everything you do stems from a place of lack or a fear of not having enough. This mindset can actually be counterproductive to us moving to a place of enough or a place of more.

Today I’m going to talk about how I’ve dealt with my own scarcity mindset as it relates to “time”. If you’re someone who panics that there is never enough time to do all the things, hopefully these tips will help you, too.

Sometimes a scarcity mindset comes from living in a place of actual lack. For instance, folks who lived through the Great Depression were known to continue to hoard things—string, scraps of fabric, etc.—because they’d lived through a time when those little bits made a big difference.

But at its heart, scarcity mindset stems from fear: fear of the unknown, fear of experiencing something again, fear of the future, fear of not being prepared.

Generally people will talk about scarcity mindset as it relates to food or money, so when I would hear the term scarcity mindset, I would tune out. Now, to be clear, I’m not rolling in the dough, but I’m at a place in my life where I don’t stay awake at night worrying about money or food anymore. Part of that is where we are in life, part of that is mindset/focus.

There is, however, one perceived lack that has been known to occasionally keep me up at night: lack of time.

A scarcity mindset relating to time is the thing that tells you there isn’t enough time to get everything done. And that if you’re awake, you have to be doing all the things. And that you should be constantly reaching, getting up earlier and staying up later, to do all the things. Because if you don’t, there will not be enough time.

Have you ever felt this way?

Scarcity mindset relating to time will try to convince you that if you don’t get to your computer by 5 am, Amy, what are you even doing with your life? You’re wasting your time sleeping! There is so much to do!

Scarcity mindset is sometimes the thing behind the person who is pushing and doing and striving and pushing. It’s not just that they’re a go-getter. It’s that they’re a go-getter living with the constant panic that they are going to run out of time because they weren’t given enough time in the first place.

This gets further complicated if you happen to be a person who was either taught or somehow latched on to the belief that your worth is tied to what you do and how much you get done. In other words, if you don’t get enough done, you’re not valuable. And in order to get things done, you need lots of time. And if you don’t have enough time you won’t get the things done. So you’re not valuable.

The irony of scarcity mindset

The irony of scarcity mindset, regardless of whether you’re talking food, money, or time, is that focusing on what you lack actually makes you a slave to that lack. Focusing on a perceived lack is what keeps you in lack. It’s like being in quicksand—the more you panic about being in the quicksand, the faster it pulls you under. The more you hyper-focus on the perceived problem, the less you can see any solutions.

When it comes to feeling as if you lack time, and you focus on that lack of time, you can spend a lot of time caught up in things that aren’t actually productive—which, ironically, wastes the time you do have. Even crazier, you might think you’re actually being productive because you’re spending the time trying to figure out (read: worrying) what to do about your lack of time!

Here are a couple things I’ve learned in the last few years:

a) Getting up super early (or staying up late) to be more productive is only beneficial if you’re actually productive in those hours. Sometimes it’s more productive to sleep until 7 am than to get up at 4 am and putz around. It’s not the hours you’re awake, it’s what you do with the time. It’s completely possible to be “busy” but not productive.

b) A task will often swell (or shrink) to fill the time allotted for it. I have discovered that I am much more productive when I have less time available. A task that can get done in 15 minutes (if I need to squeeze it in to get it done) can also take me 2 hours if I allow myself that much space to complete the task.

A trick that’s helped me.

If you’re someone who also deals with a scarcity mindset when it comes to time, I’d like to share with you a tip that’s helped me when I get overwhelmed and panicked with the thought that there isn’t enough time.

Note: If you have followed me for any length of time you know I’m a visual person, and in order to solve anything I have to have a visual representation of what’s going on. I’m also tactile, so while there are probably apps that will do exactly what I’m going to tell you about, I’m a person who has to put a pen in my hand and a paper on the table and write this out.

1. What needs to get done? Write it ALL down.

Sometimes we get all anxious about not having enough time because the to-do list is just a blob in our head and we need to untangle it. By untangling it, you will see what really needs to get done—and what just had a bunch of fuzz attached to it that was making it seem bigger than it was.

This works whether you’re talking about tomorrow’s to-do list or steps along the journey to reaching a long term goal. Write down all the things you need to do tomorrow: Get feed for the chickens and goats. Run to town and check the post office box. Defrost the freezer. Make a batch of tortillas. Take a walk.

Don’t forget things like check social media, return emails, return phone calls, or prep for a meal. List as many things as you can think of that you will need to take care of.

Got your list? Now it’s time for step 2.

2. “Schedule” your tasks.

I took an 8.5 x 11″ sheet of paper. I wrote “date” at the top and then drew 25 evenly spaced horizontal lines in the remaining space. So I basically just made my own sheet of lined paper like you’d find in a notebook, but it has the right amount of lines and enough space for my purposes.

So those 25 lines make 24 spaces, right? On the left hand side going down the edge of the paper, I start in the top space and write 12 am midnight. In the space below it I write 1 am. In the space below I write 2 am. And so on until in the bottom space I’ve written 11 pm.

Then I stick this on my copier and I make a gazillion copies. (If you don’t have a copier, you can certainly just make a new one every day by hand.)

Now, on this sheet, I have a line for every hour of the day. And since I’ve already made the list of “what I need to do” in step 1 above, I fill those things in to the schedule where they make the most sense.

Which means—and this is where some people get tripped up, especially if they really struggle with a scarcity mindset—I have to assign a time frame to a task. You really have to ask yourself how long is that task going to take you?

An example of how I list out my tasks for the day to see how they all fit and where my blank spots are.

Three things that are going to happen if you write all this down:

1 You’re going to be more responsible with your time: If I said I’m going to spend an hour cleaning and organizing the barn, that’s how long I’m going to spend doing it. Not 15 minutes and then putz with something else. I’m also not going to tell people it’s going to take me 3 hours to do it (or imagine that myself) when that isn’t how long it takes.

2 You’re going to be more realistic with your time: There are a lot of people who imagine that a task takes longer than it actually does, because that feeds into their belief that there is too much to do and not enough time to do it. Sometimes it feels like a task will take an hour when it really only takes twenty minutes, and yet in our head it’s permanently slotted as an hour long task. That causes unnecessary stress, and totally feeds the fear in time scarcity.

3. You’re going to see how much time you have used in your day and what, if any, is leftover: If nothing else, this is an on-paper illustration of where your time actually goes and where the blank space is (if there is any blank space). Maybe you are someone who will find a couple hours a day—or several hours in a week!—in a schedule you previously thought had no breathing room.

Conversely, you might also find that you’re someone trying to fit 48 hours of work into a 24 hour day, and that’s just as important of a reality to face. But you won’t know that until you write it all out for a couple weeks and take a good hard look at what’s going on.

NOTE: The purpose of this isn’t to break your life into little chunks and schedule out every second of your existence. It’s simply a tool to use when you feel like time is getting away from you.

At the end of the day…

There is satisfaction in crossing things off a list because you got it done. But maybe at the end of the day you should really look at all that stuff you crossed off. Look at all those lines that are etched across the paper. Instead of looking at the two things you didn’t get done—which can feed our “see? there just isn’t enough time!” mindset— look at the 13 things you DID get done.

Every single person on this planet has 24 hours in their day. Instead of getting sucked into the mindset that you don’t have enough hours in the day—as if some cosmic tragedy has shorted you and no one else—try reframing it to, “Everyone has 24 hours in their day. How can I best use mine?”

Amy Dingmann 4-12-21


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The belief that you don't have enough time will make you less productive with the time you have. Here are two tips that have helped me when I fall into a time scarcity mindset.

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