You’ve probably heard the quote, “you have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé”. And while that well-intended statement (now somewhat controversial) was meant to be inspiring – the reality is that not everyone’s 24 hours are created equal, especially at work.
Most professionals are already stretched too thin just keeping up with everything on their plate. In fact, 78.7% feel stressed because they don't have enough time in the week to get everything they need to get done, done. And not for lack of trying!
The standard workweek is supposed to be 40 hours, right? Well, our Burnout Trends Report from 2022 found employees are actually averaging 45.8 hour workweeks – tallying up to an additional 276.3 hours of work every year. That's almost 7 weeks worth of extra work we're clocking in our personal time (can we cash this in for vacation time instead please?).
And even then, all that extra work time isn’t getting most of us closer to glamorous, Beyoncé-level success. Instead, this toxic hustle culture mentality is only fueling mental exhaustion across industries with the message that if you’re not super busy, you’re not being productive enough.
The forecast isn't looking any more favorable either, as workloads have only increased from the fallout of The Great Resignation and waves of quiet quitting. Now, with even more mass layoffs predicted for 2023 – those 24 hours a day can feel even more fleeting than ever. If we were sitting at a 60.2% burnout rate in 2022, what will 2023 bring?
If you can’t seem to shake your overwhelming feeling of time anxiety as each minute passes by – you’re not alone. In this blog post, we’ll explore what causes time scarcity, how it impacts professionals, and offer 7 ways to overcome a lack mindset at work.
What is time scarcity?
Many professionals resonate with some feelings of anxiety around how much time they have in a busy week or before a deadline – so what exactly is time scarcity, and how is it different?
Time scarcity is an awareness that you don’t have enough time for all the things you need to do. Of course, time is a limited resource for everyone and we all know it’s passing, but a time scarcity mindset is different because it’s typically a very negative or even obsessive experience.
A ‘scarcity mindset’, or scarcity mentality, is when you focus most on what you don’t have enough of. That can be time, money, food, or anything else. Because scarcity is naturally driven by insecurity and fear – time scarcity can cause you to feel overwhelmed, panicky, and hopeless as the minutes pass by at work. This can exacerbate your difficulty focusing, cause decision paralysis, or even build up to a complete mental block.
When left unaddressed, time scarcity can cause immense stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy or imposterhood at work – which not only negatively affects your productivity and job satisfaction, but also takes a heavy toll on your long-term mental health. But what exactly causes time scarcity?
Top causes of time scarcity at work:
- Setting unrealistic expectations on yourself, or letting others do so.
- Failing to prioritize your to-dos and commitments.
- Underestimating how long a task will take to complete.
- Lacking clear, actionable goals for every day.
- Not defending time to actually work on to-dos.
- Ineffectively managing distractions and interruptions.
- Falling into the trap of hustle culture that being ‘busy’ means being productive.
So unfortunately, the consequences of time scarcity usually end up jeopardizing all of your hard work. If you’re constantly feeling behind on time – here are 7 ways to break the scarcity cycle, get more work done, and not burn yourself out in the process.
7 tips to combat time scarcity
1. Accept there is only so much you can do
This first step is both the most important and difficult for most of us. Today’s work culture often glorifies being super busy, saying ‘yes’ to everything, and making personal sacrifices for the sake of our careers. While time scarcity can feel like the clock is against us, flipping our mindset on how we use our time and energy can actually be liberating.
No one can function at 100%, 100% of the time. And even if we could, there is still only so much that can realistically be accomplished in a week. By acknowledging that getting 60 hours worth of work into a 40-hour workweek is an unrealistic expectation, we can accept our limits and take a more productive approach to how we approach our limited time. This can support an abundance mindset for prioritizing our time, keep us aligned with daily goals, and fuel sustainable motivation to hit even Beyoncé-level dreams in the future.
2. Understand your availability
Time can seem pretty abstract as it is, but it can feel especially elusive when looking at it from a scarcity vs. abundance mindset. A great way to counter this is to actually break down our calendar week into individual hours - or even minutes - to get a more concrete overview of our actual availability.
If you’re new to time blocking, it’s the habit of scheduling everything that needs to get done in your calendar with a realistic time estimate of how long you’ll need. This simple technique can actually boost your productivity up to 80% by outlining an actionable plan that promotes single-tasking vs. anxiously jumping from task to task. It can also help you visualize what you can realistically accomplish, so you can make the most of the time that you do have.
3. Prioritize your to-do list
When you have too many tasks to complete, it’s easy to become overwhelmed just deciding what to tackle first. Learning how to effectively prioritize and deprioritize your tasks can be challenging at first, especially when everything feels really important. Remember – there’s only so much productive time in a day, so making sure you’re getting the most important things done first is key.
Organize your master task list (you know, that monstrous laundry list of all the to-dos you have to get done) according to items that are due soonest, and provide the highest value. Using an approach like the Eisenhower Matrix can help you identify and sort your tasks by both importance and urgency, and help you realize the stuff that really isn’t worth investing your time into. Prioritizing your tasks can give you some peace of mind in knowing that you are dedicating your time and energy where it matters most – even if you can’t get everything finished at once.
4. Schedule time for your tasks
Creating that task list is a great start, but if you don’t set the time aside to get things done, you’re likely going to lose it to new distractions that pop up in the week. As they say, if it’s not on the calendar, it ain’t happening. Once you know what’s most important (and urgent), it’s time to create a productive weekly plan around your priority tasks.
First, take a look at your weekly schedule to identify where you have open time for deep work sessions on your cognitively-demanding projects. Larger time blocks are harder to come by, so it’s good to get these scheduled first. Next, set aside a few smaller blocks in the week to task batch shallow work items like responding to emails, catching up on Slack, or filling out reports.
By actually blocking time for your tasks in your calendar, you can build a productive gameplan for the week around what needs to get done, and defend the time you need from being overbooked by another unproductive meeting that could have been an email. Bonus – the simple act of estimating your tasks on the calendar will help you visualize your time and plan what’s actually accomplishable in a week!
If manually time blocking your calendar seems like something you don’t have time for, take advantage of a productivity app like Reclaim.ai. Reclaim automatically schedules your calendar with tasks, habits, meetings, and even breaks – so you can stay focused on getting stuff done.
5. Learn to say ‘no’
With practice, it’ll become easier to prioritize your tasks, plan your week, and realistically estimate what you can handle so time scarcity doesn’t weigh you down. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get hit with new requests for your time throughout the week. If you’ve spent most of your career saying ‘yes’ to any and all requests from your managers or team – just the thought of saying ‘no’ can be daunting.
But by deprioritizing, delegating, and declining requests that you simply don’t have the time or bandwidth for – you can focus on completing your true priorities instead of wasting time on things that really aren’t important. This can help lighten the load, make it easier to manage your time, and even help your teammates better understand the important work you’re doing. There are many ways to respectfully and professionally say ‘no’ (even without using the word ‘no’ at all) so you don’t feel like you’re letting a coworker down when you just don’t have the time.
6. Manage distractions & interruptions
Research has found that between interruptions every 5-15 minutes, and the 23.25 minutes it takes your brain to get back on task after context switching – a distracted workday can cost the average employee up to 6 hours a day. Not ideal when you already feel like there aren't enough hours in the week.
Time blocking your calendar is a good start to single-tasking one project at a time, and communicating to others when you’re busy so they’re less likely to interrupt you. But if you’re still getting pulled out of your focus time by a stream of non-priority notifications – Reclaim’s Slack integration takes it a step further by updating your status in real-time with your calendar. So the next time you’re in a meeting, working on a task, or just trying to grab a quick lunch, your teammates will see your status and think twice about whether the ping is worth the interruption. Distraction-free time to make progress on tasks (get that phone out of sight too!) is key to maximizing time efficiency so you’re actually making the most of your limited work hours.
7. Take time for yourself
Finally, remember – time is never scarce enough to forgo taking care of yourself.
Get enough sleep, make time for daily healthy habits like lunch or a walk, schedule breaks to decompress, and log off at a reasonable hour to help maintain a healthy work-life balance. Try countering scarcity thinking by adding daily abundance mindset affirmations to your morning routine, or consider doing guided meditations to help quiet negative thoughts.
And our favorite tip? Make time for more fun! Having fun creates a happier and more positive mindset, which actually improves your productivity. So spend time around friends and family, read more good books, maybe try out a new hobby, or take advantage of your PTO to go on a well-deserved vacation. You can time block rest and fun in your calendar too!
Feeling abundant about your time ✨
You might not be able to get more than 24 hours in a day, but you can maximize that limited time to prevent time scarcity from constantly creeping in. Not by trying to do more, but by being more intentional with where those hours are spent.
When you are confident in your priorities, defend your time according to your capacity, and focus your energy on the things that are most important, both at work and in your personal life – you’re bound to see a shift towards a mindset of abundance. Maybe that's what Beyoncé is all about too…
Tweet us @reclaimai to get in on the conversation! 👋