under pressure, not duress

Most of us see what we want to see, and do what we want to do.

Ray Fisman writes in Slate about some new behavioral economic research by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan: “The researchers argue that when people get busier, it leads to ignored deadlines, a cluttered desk, and a vicious cycle of falling further and further behind. Amid the disorder, a lot of bad decisions get made.” And even though “Some people feel they’re at their most productive when work has piled up and deadlines are looming… these pressures cause what they call ‘tunneling:’ a laser-like focus on the tasks immediately at hand, which often results in a disregard for the bigger picture. You may be focusing on that deadline at the expense of your long-term happiness.”

I’m looking forward to Shafir’s and Mullainathan’s new book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Apparently, whether it’s time or money, the lack of it can mess with your ability to manage it. Perhaps the book will inform sound social welfare policy.

But for the average person, what does a person need to have in order to avoid “tunneling” — aside from more time or more money?

My spouse told me once, “we focus on what we measure.” Are you wondering why you can’t find time to do all you want, or why you can barely find time to do what you need? Are you wondering where all the money goes, even though, by conventional standards, you have a lot of money?

Track both. Behave as you normally do, but look at what you do. Write it down, key it in, whatever you’d like. But try it. For one day. Then try a second day. And a third. Work up to a week, a month — even a year. Maybe it will help. Maybe you’ll find you’re not in a tunnel, but just a very crowded room, with lots of windows and doors.

But if you don’t want to look. Why?

We don’t want to do what we fear. What do we fear?

What do you think?

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