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To be overly generous with time is not a virtue. This practice compromises health and cannot be sustained.

Do I look like I have all day? Well, do I?

People seek my help for a variety of issues, but a majority of my clients all suffer from one common dilemma: they are too available.

Faculty and staff often find themselves inundated with tasks and drowning in a river of requests, with no idea how they arrived at that point.

Some are natural givers who freely offer their time and assistance, which makes them feel good. Unfortunately, takers always outnumber givers and are happy to squeeze as many favors as they can.

Others make themselves too available due to a sense of obligation or vulnerability. They perceive their status as shaky, so the thought of declining a request feels like a risk to their job, friendship, or relationship.

Regardless of the underlying reasons, excessive availability does not happen overnight, but progresses insidiously until the person feels overwhelmed, under-appreciated, disempowered, and generally miserable. To be overly generous with time is not a virtue. On the contrary, this practice is unhealthy and not sustainable, and the law of scarcity and availability predicts that anyone who gives away too much of their time will have a negative drain of energy, happiness, and success.

According to this unwritten law, people want what they can’t have, and value what’s in short supply. When was the last time you got excited about a pigeon, a Toyota Camry, or a McDonald’s restaurant? I’m guessing either never or not since the age of six, because you can experience these anytime. However, if you replace those examples with bald eagle, Bentley, and Wolfgang Puck’s, you are suddenly interested, because those are rare.

You can think about the law of scarcity and availability like supply and demand, but applied to you and your time. If your time is scarce, it is more valuable, bringing you more influence and consideration. Conversely, if you are always available, and people can count on your help anytime, for any task, no matter how trivial, then you lose value and influence, get overwhelmed with work, and lose energy (and ultimately your health). This can happen in both professional and personal arenas.

The Three D’s

No matter how long you may have practiced excessive time generosity, you can start reclaiming your time today with the three D’s: Delay, Delegate, and Do away with. Everyone has a limit to what they can accomplish in a given time period, and sometimes demands for service exceed that limit. Don’t count on others to recognize or respect your limit. Instead, use the three D’s to protect your time.

Delaying involves putting off an existing task to give priority to a new one, rather than taking on both.

Example 1

Jason’s Boss:  “I need you to design a brochure. I want a draft in three days.”

Jason:  “No problem, happy to do it. So, given that during those three days my schedule is nearly booked, which activity shall I postpone so I can get you that draft on time?”

Another form of delay is to agree to take on a project, while informing the person making the request that it will have to wait. Delay sets a firm boundary and preserves the value of your time, but still makes you look helpful.  This strategy is ideal for lower priority or lower value activities.

Example 2:

Jason’s co-worker: “Can you help me figure out how to use the new camcorder?” (Note: This is not my job.)

Jason:  “I’m happy to help when my schedule is clear, probably in a few days.”

Delegating involves directing a task to someone else, and is the next logical option if delay fails. Note that this type of delegating does not require you to have actual authority, only the ability to convince the person making the request that someone else is a better choice for the task.

Example 1

Jason’s Boss:  “I need you to design a brochure. I want a draft in three days.”

Jason:  “I would normally say ‘no problem,’ but considering how impacted my schedule is this week, I think another staff would be more likely to get you that draft on time.”

Example 2:

Jason’s co-worker: “Can you help me figure out how to use the new camcorder?”

Jason:  “I would be happy to, but I have such a backlog of work, I probably won’t have time for a few days. You might get help faster if you call I.T.”

Finally, when presented with tasks that are ill-timed or simply unnecessary, you can try convincing requesters to do away with them. Be prepared to offer an alternative, or to demonstrate why the request is not needed.

When your tasks pile up like this, you know it’s time to purge.

Balancing scarcity and availability is an art.  Although decreasing your availability increases your value, becoming too scarce can cause others to perceive you as distant, unhelpful, or uncaring. If you focus on high-value activities, steer clear of low-value tasks, and practice the three D’s, you will re-claim your time, and build the perception of being in high demand, but also of being a team player.


by Jason Sackett, LCSW
Professional Staff at CWFL