Our inability to do the things we want is not a matter of time availability. It is our lack of prioritization that is hindering us. We are not meeting our goals because they are not important. It they were that important we would get them done. Everything we choose to do, keeps us from choosing something else. Opportunity has a cost.
I toyed with writing many years ago. It was on my to-do list, but never made it to the top of my list. My priorities started to change, over the last couple of years, and I found writing creeping up the list. As important as I thought writing was to me, I couldn’t find a way to make time for it. I discussed this topic with a buddy and he pulled no punches. He proceeded to tell me it was all my fault. If the goal was important to me, I would focus on it and do it. Lack of time was not a valid excuse.
I have been a project manager most of my life. Choosing which projects are most valuable and prioritizing them is a key to success. No organization, or person, has unlimited resources. All projects can’t start at the same time. You may be thinking that your multitasking skills are legend and you are the exception to this rule. Science has proven the human brain doesn’t actually perform simultaneous tasks. In fact, our brains are only able to switch tasks quickly. In reality, we can only do one thing at a time.
Often, to my wife’s displeasure, I have a habit of project managing aspects of our life. She has admitted that it can be more efficient and sometimes turns out well. But, she also has told me to zip it on several occasions. You guessed it, I am about to do the same thing for you. Before I get into treating your time as a project, let’s use a quick business case as an example.
Let’s say your business has two software upgrade projects. The first project will help your company increase profits by $150,000 over three years. The second project will increase profits by $75,000 over three years. It’s pretty much a no-brainer to go with the $150,000 project. Even though this project gives you double the profit as the second project, you lose the opportunity to make $75,000. In project management terms, we call this “Opportunity Cost.” It doesn’t matter if that opportunity is of more or less benefit, you still lose that opportunity. That being said, our goal is to prioritize the opportunities that provide a greater benefit.
Weight loss is a great example for opportunity cost. A large percentage of us make the same New Year’s resolution every year. We convince ourselves this is the year we will finally lose all the weight. We move it to the top of our list and make that our priority project for the year. We join a gym, we start cooking our meals in advance, and we start running four days a week. We are on fire for about three weeks. On Monday, of week four, we decide to sleep in and skip our run. We gained an hour of sleep, but sacrificed an opportunity to run. On Tuesday, we eat out for lunch instead of eating our pre-cooked meal. Our taste buds were pleased, but we had more calories than planned. In both cases, we chose to give up the opportunity to do something that supports our weight loss goal.
After having my conversation about lack of time, I decided to project manage every hour of my week. This would be a true breakdown of opportunity cost. Let’s break it down by the numbers and some choices I made to benefit my writing project.
168 Hours – Total for a week – 24 x 7 = 168
56 Hours – Daily Sleep hours. I am an eight hour a day sleeper. 8 x 7 = 56
45 Hours – Work 1 – My day job, including lunch. 9 x 5 = 45
3 Hours – Work 1 commute
10 Hours – Work 2 – My second job
8 Hours – Standard tasks – House chores, grocery shopping, other tasks.
10 Hours – Exercise. I ride my bike and run a lot.
Let’s hold here for a moment. Most of us will have a version of the basic life needs above. We don’t have children, so the numbers for parents could be vastly different. By my calculations, I have thirty-six hours a week free at this point.
Here is where it gets interesting. What do you do with your spare time?
I am going to list some of my common options, in no particular order.
TV, movies, Facebook, reading, writing, guitar, golf, continuing education, date night, dinner with friends or family, and camping are a good start.
It is easy to see how we can waste our precious time. TV and Facebook could eat up twenty hours of our week. I have reading and writing on my list. In order to become a good writer, you have to read a lot. If you are reading, which is essential, you can’t be writing. That is a big opportunity cost to balance.
I made a couple of subtle changes to maximize my time. I started listening to podcast and audio articles during my morning commute. This allowed me to gain three hours of knowledge and reduce my reading time. Instead of eating out for lunch, I brought my lunch to work and used that time to either write or finish up some reading. That allowed me to gain another five hours of productivity.
We all waste time. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you need to shutdown the brain and binge watch your favorite show. The key is to minimize those wasted moments and don’t let them control your life. You are the only person who can reach your goals. If you want to do something, you can do it and you will do it. If you put the same thing on your list every year, and never finish it, maybe it shouldn’t be on your list. If you care about it, you will prioritize and accomplish it.