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Can Being Busy Make You Dumber?

Cornerstone Editors

Have you ever felt so rushed that focusing and completing one task seems almost impossible? Two researchers at Harvard and Princeton, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, have dubbed that feeling "time scarcity" — the perception of not having enough time that can directly affect a worker's decision-making and productivity.

In their book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, Mullainathan and Shafir describe how feelings of scarcity, such as hunger, loneliness and even poverty, can create a "Famished feeling [that] produces a 'cognitive tunnel' limiting what we’re able to see." For example, a hungry person would be hypersensitive to any mention of food but might neglect to notice other things. According to the authors, busyness and having an overall scarce sense of time can cause workers to become distracted and can "[Lead] to poor decisions like counterproductive multitasking, neglecting relationships for work, and losing themselves in their inboxes."

However, as being busy is inevitable for most workers, here are a few tactics Fast Company writer Drake Baer recommends for handling time-scarcity:

1. Automate: "If we set our banking so that our checking account makes an automatic transfer to the savings at the end of every week or month, then we won’t be 'too busy' to make that long-term decision," explains Baer.

2. Schedule reminders: "When you get a reminder to do something--make a doctor’s appointment, pay a bill, get your driver’s license renewed--you’ll be more likely to do it," says Baer, who recommends the service: If This, Then That to set up automated alerts.

3. Clear your calendar: "The opposite of feeling ’time scarce’ is feeling ’time affluent’--unsparingly, it’s linked with happiness. We can get more time affluent by saving it. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules solitude. Warren Buffett keeps his calendar clear," explains Baer.

4. Be in the moment: "Researchers have found that a feeling of awe can also make people feel more time rich," says Baer. "They found that when you encounter a jaw-dropping moment, you experience time more slowly."

Photo credit: Can Stock

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