Time is a limited resource. There are just 24 hours in a day. No more, no less. All mammals must consume the basic survival inputs — clean air, fresh water and food, resting and using clothing and shelter. Time must be spent gathering, preparing or producing the food and other inputs, in making them ready for consumption, and in cleaning up afterward. Whatever time is not spent on those activities is available for other things.
If you are not directly involved in making any of those inputs, someone else must do that. In order to compensate them for the time, effort and other resources they spent in the production of inputs and making them ready for your consumption, you must use some of your left over time to create an income — either as physical outputs or their monetary equivalent — to pay for the goods and services they provide. That enables you to compensate them. Otherwise, you are expecting or getting a gift from them.
You’ve heard of discretionary spending. It is buying things after you have taken care of the necessities. The same thing goes for time. Once you’ve utilized your time to take care of providing the basic inputs, you have the opportunity to allocate the balance of it to those other things you want to do most. But the available time is limited. Every hour you spend on anything, you are giving up the possibility of using it for something else. Typically you have a number of alternative ways to spend the next hour. Some are more important than others. Clearly, spending time on the basic necessities comes first. After that, then what?
In choosing among them pay attention to their relative importance. Rank them in order of their priority. Choose the one — the way to spend that hour — that will give you the greatest satisfaction. The one that is best for you. And only you know which that will be. In making that choice, always be sure that you are aware of what you are giving up — that is, what else you could have spent that hour doing.
Economists, as students of the science of the allocation of scarce resources, call this concept “opportunity cost.” That is, always pay attention to what you will be giving up. That makes achieving the best results more likely.
How often have you heard:
• You should do that, or
• that’s your responsibility, or
• you said you’d do that, or
• you’d be better off if you did that —
whatever “that” is. They are just ways that someone else, or perhaps your inner voice, is attempting to influence your priorities. Whether you decide to do it, or not to, is up to you. And you take the consequences, either way. When someone makes a request of you — especially when it is someone you are close to or who you would like to please or help — before saying, “Yes,” think about what you could do, what you would want to do with the same time and effort. I’ve found it useful to sleep on it before deciding. That makes it less likely that you’ll say yes first and regret it afterward.
Sometimes things don’t work out quite as desired or expected. Like the times you have said or heard, “I’d love to come, but I have to take care of the kids.” At times like that, pay attention to what you are giving up and how much it would cost to hire a baby sitter. At other times you can’t go because you’ve made a prior commitment. And then there are unintended consequences, like when the activity took longer than you expected, when there was sound pollution from a leaf blower or global warming from carbon emissions. Had you known that ahead of time you might well have made a different choice.
Before taking any action:
• Pay attention to the likely consequences including the possible unintended ones,
• weigh both the benefits and the costs and
• make sure you understand what you are giving up.
Things change. Along with them your priorities can change as well. When they do, it is a good idea to respond to and take advantage of the new conditions or new opportunities. If you take this approach and take these factors into consideration in making your decisions, your choice of how to spend your limited time is more likely to be in the way that is best for you.
Having said that, I’m going to pack up and take the next hour to swim. That is what I want and my body says, “Go for it.” Everything else and everyone else can wait, P.S., I already did the dishes and the laundry.