Becoming a Master of the Time-Scarcity Demon

Our greed for accomplishment is trampling our appreciation for the beauty of what we can actually do
March 22, 2018 Updated: January 30, 2020

It’s something most of us deal with every day, often without realizing it’s there: a feeling of time scarcity.

We know it well: the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it all.

This is true of work—where we have too many projects, meetings, emails, admin tasks, calls, requests, messages—and our personal lives. We want to exercise, eat well, meditate, learn something cool, travel, go out with friends, spend time in solitude, go for hikes, read a million books, take care of finances and errands, and keep up with podcasts, and news, and interesting online content, and our loved ones on social networks, and fascinating people on social media—all while finding space for contemplation and quiet.


How can we manage to do all of that in what is obviously limited time? How can we stuff all of our hopes, dreams, tasks, and errands into such a limited box?

One answer is to do fewer things: Simplify by cutting things out of your life. Do some things less or not at all.

Another is to outsource, hire a team, or delegate. These are all great options.

But true mastery of the time-scarcity demon only really comes from a mindset shift. We have to address the feeling rather than figure out the logistics of it all. Addressing the logistics (the hows and whats) don’t really change the feeling. The feeling will always be there until we deal with it.

What’s Going On

The problem isn’t that we have too little time—we all get the same amount of time each day and each week. It’s the exact right amount of time because it’s all there is.

While it’s possible that we have too many things to do, it’s likely that the real problem is our wanting to do too much in the time we have. The difficulty is not usually the number of things we have to do, but rather that we want to cram too many of them in.

We are not satisfied with what we’re actually able to do on a minute-by-minute, month-by-month basis.

What we have and can do is never enough, and it’s this lack of being satisfied that is the real problem. We reject our experience and want more.

In Buddhism, this is called “greed.” I don’t love this term because it feels judgmental, but it simply means that we’re not satisfied with what we have, and we want more.

The answer to greed, according to Buddhism, is generosity. That is to say, to see the amazingness in what we already have, to see the profound beauty in the experience we’re having right now, and to love what is.

Mastering the Demon

To master this demon of time scarcity, and this feeling that we have too much to do and too little time, requires that we develop awareness and generosity.

We need to be aware of when we’re feeling overwhelmed. What does this feel like, right now, for you in your body? What does it feel like to never feel like there’s enough time to do all you want to do? Learn to identify this feeling, and start to recognize it when it’s happening.

When the feeling comes, start retraining your mind from wanting more to seeing the greatness of what is right in front of you. Retrain by using a new thinking pattern.

All we can do is one thing at a time. All we have is this moment, this day.

And it is enough. It is beautiful, incredible, if we just really see it and appreciate it. We can do one thing and be incredibly grateful that we are able to do that one thing.

Each moment, we can do another one thing, giving it our full attention, giving it full weight, and acting as if it might be our last act, and truly appreciate the opportunity we have to be alive at this moment.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with more than 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit