In an overworked world where long hours are normalised and time is scarce, it is vital to rethink what is essential, and work differently. Examining our scarcity mindsets – those beliefs that there is not enough of something we lack – is critical to this rethinking.
Take time scarcity for example.
Ronnie works for a large multinational organisation and regularly clocked eighty hours a week on the job. She is a leader in her part of the business, and the scale of work keeps growing. Ronnie thought she had no choice about working such long hours – there was no other way to keep on top of everything. She believed her organisation expected people to work this way and these hours were ‘the way things are done around here’.
When Ronnie shared her long work week, I was aware this was typical in her organisation, where everyone confessed to similar hours. Yet I wondered if it was true that there was not enough time. Was it true that ‘I can only achieve my goals if I work eighty hours each week?’
I suspected a scarcity mindset might be in play.
This mindset of believing there’s not enough time and needing to work extra-long hours to get it all done is dangerous for many reasons. Research on the health costs for people working more than fifty-five hours a week is clear. A study published in 2021 by the WHO and ILO concluded that working fifty-five or more hours per week is associated with a higher risk of a stroke and dying from ischemic heart disease, compared with working thirty-five to forty hours.
Other research shows that working long hours is counterproductive. Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, found that working eighty hours a week does not make a person more productive. In a surprising twist, it was revealed that managers couldn’t tell the difference between people who worked the full eighty hours and those who pretended to. The output was the same.
So what gives?
I asked Ronnie what a breakthrough could look like for her, and she laughed and said, ‘If I could work sixty hours a week, that would be amazing. But it’s not possible.’
What we discovered in our sessions was that the scarcity wasn’t so much around time; it was that Ronnie was missing a juicier vision for her life that didn’t have work crammed into every part of it.
In imagining what life at seventy hours of work could look like, Ronnie dreamed about taking the train to Geneva with her husband on Sundays and visiting museums. They would sit in a café at 8pm a few nights a week and enjoy dinner together.
What might sixty hours look like? Even though it felt like a fantasy, Ronnie got excited! She would cook more often. She would go back to doing Pilates. She and her husband would take their dog on a rambling walk on the weekends.
Within four weeks, Ronnie got her workweek down to seventy hours.
She did so by critically examining her unthinking response to saying yes to everything. She noticed how she would step in to fix things her team had done. She was more rigorous about accepting requests.
Within three months, Ronnie’s working hours stabilised at sixty per week. Something she had believed was impossible became possible. Her performance review showed no drop in productivity, and her team-leading score improved. Ronnie believes that was because she felt less stressed and had more space to support and empower her global team.
This is the empower of mindsets: Ronnie’s conditions didn’t change – she still had work to do, results to produce, deadlines to meet and a team to empower. What changed was her mindset, propelled by a clearer vision for what she wanted her life to look like.
Where do you have rusted on beliefs about things you do that you don’t question? What juicier vision for your life can you create that causes an expanded focus on things you love? What new mindset can you develop to neutralise the scarcity mindset?
Ronnie is a mentor client of mine. If you want support in breaking past your old patterns and limitations – let me know!
Till next week,