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Waiting Until the Last Minute Has an Upside

hourglassSome of us do our best work when the sand in the hour glass is is almost gone.  Jungian typologists use the term pressure-prompted to describe the individual who prefers to pull it together at the last minute.  A new book describes this phenomenon in a way that makes perfect sense to a dedicated last-minute type like me. The authors of the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much calls this energy the “focus dividend” of scarcity.

Scarcity means we have too little of something, time or money for instance.   When we realize this, our brains tend to switch from big picture thinking to bottom up, mission critical thinking. The authors use the metaphor of packing a suitcase:  if you have a small suitcase, you throw out the extras and pack as many of the essentials as possible.  When there is a large suitcase, or a feeling of slack, then there is a tendency to add extras and maybe not prioritize as we should.

Apparently, this is a brain phenomenon so the idea of “fake deadlines” doesn’t seem to work because the brain doesn’t see this as true scarcity. Therefore, the brain doesn’t tunnel, or yield the focus dividend.  At least in my experience, fake deadlines don’t fool me for very long. It isn’t long before I realize a clock set 10 minutes ahead is a clock set 10 minutes ahead!

There is an upside to to the feeling of scarcity, or the sense that time is running out.  We do indeed become more focused.  It has been said that the last 10 minutes of a coaching conversation may in fact, be the most valuable. However is there a downside to this strategy? By the way, lest the planners of the world think they don’t experience the scarcity phenomenon, think again!

The downside is this.  Scarcity demands mental bandwidth.  So as we become very focused in the moment, we might be ignoring something more important in a broad sense.  Or we might use the “best available” strategy in the moment that has long term consequences for our overall time management.  An excellent example shared in the book describes the individual who takes the backroads to work, a much more time-consuming route, because he doesn’t take the time to renew his license tabs and he might get a ticket!

So what to do?  Self-awareness is the building block of strategy. . Perhaps ask yourself a few key questions:

1. How often does waiting until the last minute have consistent and significant consequences?

2. When does it help?  Remember there is a focus dividend!

3. What are you willing to change so that you can still enjoy the benefits of #2 but not suffer the perils of #1?

I would love to hear from other scarcity dividend junkies!  How do you manage those times when you must abandon the thrill of the last minute?




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