Jordan Weissman writing for the Atlantic:

A University of Texas economist argues that those who can afford to do everything are stressed because they can never have the time to do it all.

Weissman’s article is based on this discussion paper written by Daniel S. Hamermesh and Jungmin Lee in 2005. It’s a very interesting study that states:

Any group, regardless of its hours of work, will perceive itself under increasing time stress as its ability to purchase market goods increases.

Putting their conclusion in my own words, if you make $25/hour at your 40-hour-a-week job this year, and then next year get a raise to $30/hour, you will feel more crunched for time even though you still work the same number of hours and your job responsibilities did not change.

(If you’re interested at all in this stuff I recommend you at least read the introduction and conclusion sections of Hamermesh and Lee’s paper, if not the whole thing.)

And all this reminded me of something else I learned about people who feel overwhelmingly busy. It’s something Tony Schwartz wrote about in the Harvard Business Review Blog last May: that the trick to staying productive and making decisions without getting paralyzed by stress or mental fatigue is to automate as many of the inconsequential decisions as you can:

It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.

“Acts of choice,” the brilliant researcher Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have concluded, “draw on the same limited resource used for self-control.” That’s especially so in a world filled more than ever with potential temptations, distractions and sources of immediate gratification.

One of the most iconic, real-world examples of someone automating their daily decisions is Steve Jobs. He wore the same outfit every day. It was one less thing to think about; one less decision to make each day. And that gave his mind more freedom to think about bigger things.

A Theory About Why Affluent Folks Feel Busy