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The pull to busyness and its impacts on consumer behavior

the busyness of life and consumer behavior

A growing narrative is calling for people to rest with studies highlighting the impacts of burnout and the benefits of rest or vacation. An Ernst & Young study showed that for every additional 10 hours of vacation time that employees took, their year-end performance improved 8%, and according to research from Future Forum, 40% of workers are reporting feelings of burnout.  

But as it turns out, the call toward busyness is more complicated than we may have at-first believed. For some, time is a luxury good and those who have more of it—think midday shopping, spa visits and lunches—are seen as more valuable. However, for some Americans, having less time and being busy—think back-to-back meetings or months of planning—can be a status symbol. Let’s dive into what pulls us toward busyness, the impact on consumer behavior, and ways you can alleviate the pressure on yourself and your customers. 

How scarcity mindset plays a role

Time, by nature, has the property of being scarce. If you have limited time, you by association may also be seen as a scarce or sought after resource. Especially coming out of the pandemic, which affected our social lives so acutely, many of us are seeking ways to get some of that time back. This may be further contributing to our propensity toward busyness. 

Despite our worse economic state, consumers are still looking to make up for lost time. We’ve been faced with the reality that, at any time, opportunities to travel, see friends and family, experience new things, can all be taken away with almost no notice. This mindset is causing consumers to shift priorities for what they feel is most important today. 

Completion bias

Completion bias is defined as the brain seeking the satisfaction of completing a task. But this can trick us into focusing on only completing small tasks because it provides a positive feeling. However, there’s an added dimension that may be contributing to our busyness.  

We add to our ever-growing to-do lists and only continue to pile on as we seek three fundamental things: 

  • Desire to be the ideal worker 
  • Desire to be the perfect parent 
  • Desire to have the ideal body 

This is at the heart of what is explored in the book “Dreams of the Overworked” by Christine M. Beckman and Melissa Mazmanian. For many of us, carrying tasks is akin to carrying water that’s leaving a trickle behind—and it has a cost.

TIP: For service providers, completion bias can be used positively within your customer engagement strategies, as it can help support and encourage customers to take small, manageable actions toward a shared goal.

The cost of cognitive switching

While we are feeling positive as we cross off smaller tasks, we’re not always considering the mental cost. To switch, we must disengage from our first task, redirect our attention to the newest task and intake all the background and context. This mental process is known as cognitive switching. The cost? Studies have indicated that these transitions increase our time to completion by 40% and lead to a higher likelihood of errors. 

What does this mean for service providers? 

In addition to the scarcity mindset, and up against the overwhelm, service providers have the potential to contribute to distractions that exacerbate the switching that is already happening. How do you secure your moment of that consumer’s attention, while not adding to their mental and emotional toll? And how are you considering your employees who are equally affected by this overwhelm and may be feeling it within their productivity? Here are some ways that you can work to alleviate some of the downstream implications of busyness. 

Pomodoro (or similar) timer 

  • This helps you understand how much time you’re allocating, and how often you are switching tasks. Routinely setting your timer when you switch a task will help you identify how often you’re switching and promote your focus for that 15 minutes you’ve set aside for a particular task. 

Eat the frog 

  • This is something we have adopted at Symend. Doing your most challenging task, or the one that feels the most overwhelming first, provides a sense of accomplishment early. It also signals to your brain that you will be rewarded with easier or more enjoyable tasks soon. 

Clear next steps 

  • This can be applied in many ways, but parsing out a project into smaller, more manageable chunks helps align with completion bias without getting caught up in the overwhelm of getting the entire project completed. 

Most of us enjoy the satisfaction of completing a task. Finding ways to ensure your focus remains on your tasks is the key to fueling your need for completing projects, while removing the barriers that may be getting in the way. 

For more insights from our behavioral science experts, start with our blog “Behavioral science: Why it’s critical to understanding how consumers make decisions today”. 

Download our 2023 consumer report, Decoding Billpayer Behavior, to discover more about what’s driving consumer behavior.