I recently read a book titled Scarcity by two academic researchers, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Sendhil is a professor of economics, while Eldar is a professor of psychology. They gave me a couple interesting new terms and ways of thinking about my experiences and life across several domains.
Scarcity is simply not having enough of something and is a term I was already familiar with from my undergraduate degree in economics and daily life experiences. However, the academic terms "slack" and "granularity" were new to me in this context.
The authors use the metaphor of attempting to pack a suitcase to explain both. The more space left inside the suitcase, the more slack you have. As you fill the suitcase, you are taking slack out of the suitcase and making space more scarce. Granularity refers to the size of the items you use to fill the suitcase. The bigger the items are, the fewer you can obviously put into the suitcase, but also the more free space you will have around the items.
If you decide to fill the suitcase with small items, you can obviously fit more items, but you will also have less space around those items. The different size items are how the authors explain granularity. This idea is very relevant when you are attempting to "pack" your schedule. You can fit many more smaller events on a schedule than bigger ones. However, it is also a good idea to leave some "slack" in your schedule when dealing with large events because there is more of a chance that they take up extra time.
If you're just planning on taking five minutes to do the dishes, you probably don't need much extra slack in your schedule. However, if you have a 20 page paper to write, you may need to schedule extra space (i.e. "slack") around that event. This will save you a lot of stress and issues with time scarcity in case the paper takes longer than expected to finish.
Personal Implementation A major note that I made about granularity was about information acquisition. The size of the material I read or watch often determines how ready I am to sit down and begin. For example, I can read through several 500 word articles on my smart phone while waiting for an appointment because of their small granularity and the small amount of mental "bandwidth" required for me to read and absorb them.
However, I am often reluctant to start a long chapter from a difficult textbook unless I know that I have the necessary time and attention to really focus on it. This is also true for longer videos and books.
By managing the granularity of the text I am attempting to get information from, I can actually absorb much more information throughout a day. Granted, I still need time in my schedule to sit down and do really "deep" work with certain texts, but that does not mean that I should toss out shorter articles or videos simply based on their length.
I believe granularity has a huge impact on knowledge acquisition and expertise. It also seems to be directly connected with both "deep" and "shallow" work, but I need some more time to think over the connections there. I think clustering small grain items together and then providing some buffer around larger grain items to allow for more deep work could be the way to go in my daily schedule.
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