Opportunity Cost and the Finitude of Each day

A few days ago I read an excellent article titled “Hundreds of ways to get (stuff) done and we still don’t” by Clive Thompson on Wired. I may have censored the title a bit. 😛 Thompson talks about the huge number of apps that exist today to enable us to manage our tasks. And yet, most people still struggle. Thompson wonders if the problem may not lie in the system itself but rather in the limited nature of time. To be more precise, it is that we take on way more than we have time to do. Here are some mindset-shifts that might be helpful.

Think of tasks in terms of time (a.k.a. time blocking)

Instead of making a list of tasks I would do in a day, planning out the exact time I would do them and marking them on a calendar has proved rather helpful in this regard. For example, I mark out 8-9 PM as the time I would write this blog post. And then I realize that after my classes and reading and writing the blog post, it is already time to sleep. So I immediately know that I cannot do any more tasks.

Of course this itself is not a 100% guarantee to avoid taking on more than time would allow. For instance, studies have shown that people are really really bad at estimating how long it would take to complete a task. But if I set apart 1 hour to write my blog post but realize over the course of five days that it is taking me one and a half hours to finish it, in the future I would estimate time better.

Account for opportunity cost

If you play a game of Modern Warfare for 4 hours, and you could have worked those 4 hours and earned 400 rupees instead, in a sense you paid 400 rupees to Modern Warfare. Since you had the opportunity to earn 400 rupees but didn’t. This is the idea of opportunity cost.

The idea of opportunity cost to me is very interesting. And not just in terms of money. Every time I decide to make a phone call to a friend I am deciding how I want to spend a portion of the extremely limited time I have on earth. Although it may not be all that different from time blocking, it is still a humbling thought, and one that always makes me wonder if I should be taking on more than I can handle. Thinking of all the conversations I miss out on with my family and friends, and all that I can read and learn (and all the jokes that I can make) is a great incentive to make me not scroll through Instagram mindlessly for half an hour.

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