Creating Room to Breathe: Emotionally, Financially

All of us need planned buffer zones or slack to avoid the domino-like consequences of over-planning. Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. You have an hour until you have to get to work. You woke up late, and now you need to get a shower, iron your clothes, double-check your project that is due today, and run by the drug store to pick up your prescription before the day starts.

Of course, the water heater has been on the fritz, so your shower took a lot longer to warm up than you expected. Your clothes had a particularly resistant strain of wrinkle, and you're missing the title page to your project.

You can forget going to the drug store and probably eating breakfast, too. You'll be lucky if you can just get to work on time.

Just Plan Better

A glance at the scene above may evoke responses of "Just plan better." And that's one approach, but the problem is more than just a lack of planning. When you woke, you had a plan. It wasn't a particularly good plan, but it was a plan.

Notice, however, the stress that built.

When the shower took too long, you had less time for everything else. When the ironing took too long, you were already two strikes down.

Your setbacks were cumulative, leaving you with a serious problem and with less calm and less reasoning power to tackle your next tasks.

A Scarcity Problem

I've been reading the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (affiliate link), and the book comes down to one major point. We need some slack. We need some room in our finances and in our schedules. This is, in part, achieved simply by not over-planning to the point of sheer exhaustion.

But first, before digging in too deeply to this concept, take a look at what authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir had to say about scarcity.

We ought to broaden our notion of scarcity. When we think of having very little (time, money, calories), we focus on the physical implications of scarcity: less time for fun, less money to spend. The bandwidth tax suggests there is another, perhaps more important, shortfall. We must now get by with fewer mental resources. Scarcity doesn't just lead us to overborrow or to fail to invest. It leaves us handicapped in other aspects of our lives. It makes us dumber. It makes us more impulsive. We must get by with less mind available, with less fluid intelligence and with diminished executive control—making life that much harder.

The "bandwidth tax" they refer to is the additional stress that piles on, wrecking our decision-making capabilities.

Plan Less

The real goal that we should strive for — before placing ourselves in stressful situations, whether in time or money — is to plan less. And no, I don't mean, "Don't make plans at all." I mean, simply plan less to allow for some buffer. Save some time, some energy, and some cash for the unexpected. Because there will be plenty of unexpected.

I understand that this thought isn't helpful while you're in the midst of one of those stress / scarcity scenarios. When you're in the middle of one, you look for help and you do what you can. But, we have more chances to plan in slack that we realize. When you get that chance to come up for air, make the commitment to give yourself some space.

You might even find that you're more productive when you have a little slack in your schedule and in your finances.

Have Any Tips?

How do you create slack in your life?

LifeMichael Roberts