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Doling Out Your Gifts - how to wisely allocate your personal resources

“I've wasted thousands and thousands of kisses on you.”—Faye, That Thing You Do

For 3 months I worked on a software development project. I enjoyed using my time, energy and especially my talents to create something useful. Of course, I was also motivated by the bi-weekly paycheck my employer provided me in return. Then about halfway into the project, it was cancelled.

How would you have felt if that happened to you? My rational side said that it didn’t really matter. I was paid for my work whether it was used or not. Just keep paying me and I’m fine with it.

But in reality it did matter. I had a sense of sadness and frustration that I had wasted so much of myself on something that provided no value to anyone.

The feeling of wasting one’s personal resources is the biggest cause of regret in life. And while I had no control over the decision to cancel my project, often when we look back at how we have spent our time, energy, and talent we realize that we should have made different decisions.


No matter who you are, you have value because you possess many gifts in the form of personal resources. And you have the ability to choose how those gifts are alloted.

Choosing well produces a feeling of happiness and self-worth, so it is important to your well-being to know what those personal resources are and to think about how you spend, give, save or waste them.

A (partial) list of your personal resources

Time - Time is unique among your resources and is arguably the most important. It is non-renewable and limited, the amount available is unknown, and you have to spend it. You can’t save it for later and no matter how rich or powerful you are, you can’t buy it. However, you can trade it for other resources by buying someone else’s time to do something you would rather not do yourself, freeing your own time to spend on something else.

Energy - Your energy is depletable but renewable. You can run out of physical, mental and emotional energy, but over time you can re-charge and build it back up. You can also increase how much you have to spend by 1) healthy eating and getting enough sleep, 2) engaging in activities that give you positive energy rather than deplete you, and 3) spending time with people who energize you rather than people who zap it with their negativity.

Attention - Your attention requires your time and energy but is a separate resource. It is limited because it is single-threaded - you can’t pay conscious attention to more than one thing at a time (take note multi-taskers!). Plus it is massively valuable. Consider how good it feels when someone pays attention to you. Also note how valuable it is to some organizations. The entire social media, news, and advertising business models are built on harvesting the attention of individuals like you.

Your attention is precious so be thoughtful on how you allocate it and to whom.

Talent - Each of us is born with a unique collection of talents - gifts that came to us through no effort on our part. How we nurture and use those talents, however, is up to us. To be truly happy we need to explore different fields and domains in order to discover and uncover those talents. Only then can we use them to help us achieve our goals.

Skills - Skills are often mistaken for talent. We see others succeed and think “Wow! They are talented!” In reality, success is often the result of developing the right skills that compliment each other. You rarely need to reach an elite-level of competence at a skill, so talent is often not a requirement.

Wisdom - Like talent, wisdom is developed with time and experience and mental energy. Internalized wisdom is a true gift that must be shared, but only with a dose of humility. Arrogance puts up a barrier between you and will prevent the listener from hearing the message no matter how wise or useful it is.

Smart strategies for using your resources

Planning - The biggest waste of our resources stems from not making a plan. When we allow ourselves to do what we feel like in the moment, we often subvert our ability to reach our goals because we are not spending our resources in the right places.

Goal maintenance - Keep your high-level goals top of mind so you can ensure your time and energy are spent moving you in the right direction. Review your goals periodically to see if they are still truly what you want to achieve. What was important to you at one time may no longer be your highest priority. How have you changed? Change your resource allocation to meet it.

Resource expansion - Always plan to spend some of your resources (time, energy, attention) to expand others (skills, wisdom). Seek to learn, grow and improve. The results build upon themselves and will pay dividends for the rest of your life, by increasing your resources and making you happier.

Think well and be well

- Steve Haffner, decision performance and productivity expert

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