walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Framing problems in _Scarcity_

I'm at around loc 1700 / 37% of the way through the book, and I think I now understand what's wrong with it. I had some inklings of this right at the beginning, but I suppose I had sort of hoped that the authors had learned enough in the course of writing the book to have figured out what they were doing wrong. I don't think they did.

Here are some telling passages, after they refer to Covey's urgent/important quadrants. "Scarcity, and tunneling in particular, leads you to put off important but not urgent things -- cleaning your office, getting a colonoscopy, writing a will -- that are easy to neglect. Their costs are immediate, loom large, and are easy to defer, and their benefits fall outside the tunnel. So they await a time when all urgent things are done."

(1) There are times when cleaning your office is urgent AND important: when you cannot accomplish something without cleaning the office and, somewhat before that point, when the amount of delay attributable to disorganization is greater than the effort required to reduce the disorder to a more manageable level.

(2) Getting a colonoscopy probably _should_ be put off, unless you are symptomatic, at which point the benefits will be within the tunnel.

(3) Writing a will is sort of an interesting case. I actually don't think writing a will is that important for most people who do not have children who required a named guardian in the event that all current guardians die simultaneously. If you have children who require a named guardian, the benefit in terms of reduced anxiety will probably fall within the tunnel.

The tunnel as an explanation is also somewhat weak. Head spaces that impact cognitive capacity are many, and you can undertake training and exercises to improve your performance within these head spaces. I'm unconvinced the authors are aware of this, which is a horrifying lapse. But here's why I think they don't know:

"On a good day, you might start by looking at your calendar,"

No, ON EVERY DAY, you start by looking at your calendar. Maybe you have a routine that precedes that glance, because you have to pee/dress/shave/get the kids up and out the door/eat/etc. prior to doing anything else at all, maybe you look at the calendar the night before, but checking the hard landscape of your day, as David Allen would put it, is something that adults ought to have trained themselves to do ON BAD DAYS. If you don't have this routine on bad days, you are a walking disaster. And there's a lot of reason to believe the authors of this book are walking disasters.

"In contrast, on a busy day you dive right in. You do not step back and scope out the day. You are not quite sure who's at the meeting or what it's about. And it's not only for lack of time. You may have a little time to work, but your mind is so focused on everything that needs to get done that your vision is obscured."

Clearly, these guys are the people that GTD is intended for. I had hypothesized their existence, but, fuck. It's kinda hard to believe they _really exist_.

FWIW, as a parent of two kids with special needs, I am well aware of what it's like not to have enough time to meet basic needs. Basic needs like enough consecutive hours of sleep. I get that. I really do. But that is not the kind of time pressure these idiots are suffering from. They are just being ridiculous.

In a way, I feel like I'm reading a book written by chemists who are commenting on cooking. They are chemists, so they actually know some things that a good cook might not know, but might help explain a lot about why things work -- or don't -- in the kitchen. And that's great. But just because they know a bunch of chemistry doesn't mean they have any idea how to cook.

ETA: A little later in the book, they describe classic deal with one problem only to be "surprised" because suddenly other things that were weeks away are now days or hours away, or no longer possible. Which of course is why every time management book on the planet has at least one chapter devoted to Start Saying No.

I think part of why I find this book incredibly irritating is because I was pretty damn poor in a whole lot of ways when, as a temp clerical worker, I was telling multiple "vice presidents" (you know, the kind that get the title so they sound important to the accounts, but in practice they have to share a secretary, who was currently on vacation) that they had to figure out what the priority order was for what they were telling me to do because It Was Not Possible to get it all done in the time frame they were demanding. I just stood there saying no until one of them (the only woman) shooed everyone away and laid down a set of rules that made sense to me. They did not, I might add, attempt to replace me with someone else from the temp agency. It's annoying to have to do this, but you don't need abundance in order to do this. You just need to be prepared to walk away from stupidity.

ETAYA: Oh, and I just feel like they are overly hard on the vendors. Comparing what people making a dollar or two a day, getting up crazy early in the morning and sitting in the eat negotiating with people all day long as bearing any resemblance to the time pressures experienced by PhD students in the United States just does not feel right to me. I kind of get what they are trying to do -- which is to make it so that rich people quit looking down at the decision making of poor people, and recognize that they are the same, really, when in the same circumstances, but all their data basically says something very different, in a way, which is that most people who have abundance of one sort or another aren't very good with it, either. I wish they were exploring the stuff they talked about with trained musicians, who could reproduce intervals accurately, without distortion from local referents, and how that works with people who make better decisions when pressed for time/money/other resources.

Still hoping it will get better ...

ETA Still More: Really? Really?

"Staying clear of the scarcity trap requires more than abundance. It requires enough abundance so that, even after overspending or procrastinating, we still leave enough slack to manage most shocks. Enough abundance so that even after extensive procrastination, we still have enough time left to manage an unexpected deadline. Staying out of the scarcity trap requires enough slack to deal with the shocks the world brings and the troubles we impose on ourselves."

_WHAT_ the _FUCK_. Okay, so, every time management, money management etc. schema I have ever read (and my regular readers know that these genres are a bit of a hobby of mine) is Real Clear on the idea that you have to block out time and block out money for Just Fun. (Not all the declutterers/home organization people are as clear on the importance of being able to leave a mess -- an in-progress-activity or project -- out, but the principle applies whether the advice givers know it or not.) The authors mention the money bit in passing at one point with rampant skepticism; it's not clear that they understand they are supposed to schedule leisure time and that if they did schedule leisure time, they'd be less tempted to, say, watch excessive (read: any) amounts of Family Feud.

But the way they've phrased it, they honestly sound like the kind of people that would blow through a big lottery win.

However, a paragraph later, they add, "And all this is compounded by our failure to use the precious moments of abundance to create future buffers." That's promising; I'll give them a little bit more, because That is a sentence I Believe In.

Hit the beginning of Chapter 7: they do admit the real difference between discretionary (being on a diet, being too busy at a high-paying job) vs. non-discretionary (subsistence farmer in India) scarcity, and say they are using the stuff in common to create an empathy bridge but it really only goes so far. So that's lovely; I had really believed at the beginning of this book that they were wonderful human beings and I'm glad to see that I was not wrong.

But wow, the rest of Chapter 7 is a little terrifying. Hmmm.
Tags: not-a-book-review
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