“A practical definition of opportunity cost: If you spend too much time working on good things, then you don’t have much time left to work on great things. Understanding opportunity cost means eliminating good uses of time. And that’s what makes it hard.”James Clear
I saved this quote because it was such an aha! moment in truly understanding what opportunity cost means. Even now, I find myself dabbling here and there with chores and things that “need” to be done without really ever thinking about if that is true. We know this better as busy-work, the things we do at work like checking email or even at home like checking our instagram, our text messages – all in an attempt to feel productive.
What is true productivity? What are those great uses of time?
I was listening to a podcast episode between James Clear and Sam Harris where they touch on the subject of habits. That bad habits are tricky because they don’t feel bad in the moment, actually they feel really super good in the short term but have negative consequences or effects in the long-term. Think of smoking or drinking or spending money – we do these things and then feel good. That hit of nicotine helped lower stress, that drink helped you relax tensions, and buying that new whatever or watching that TV show feels good in the moment. On the other side, good habits and behaviors don’t feel good in the moment but have long-term positive effects on your life. We all know exercise is good for you, but the inertia to get started, to actually go to the gym or lift that weight or do multiple repetitions of an exercise are all hard. Not just physically because that is what a work out is – but mentally as we resist and resist doing it.
I experienced this just this past Fourth of July weekend. A role that I have been interviewing with for months was finally winding down. I think I had four interviews, took a strength assessment, and then they asked for references. Then they asked me to complete a case study, which they gave me two days before the long holiday weekend.
I worked on the case 3-4 hours a day. I was in a grumpy mood, annoyed I had to do the case on a “holiday” and a weekend, and they weren’t even paying me for it! But I realized this was an opportunity cost. It wasn’t that I couldn’t ALSO enjoy my weekend, completing the case and enjoying the weekend were not mutually exclusive. But I was fighting and fighting in my head this idea that I was working on a holiday for a job that I didn’t yet have. I was close to telling them to fuck off and the satisfaction of being their favorite candidate walking away from the role. But I didn’t. In the end I finished the case, it looked pretty good, I was concerned it didn’t… but after hours of editing and fine tuning and having a friend look it over, I was actually proud of it and submitted the case just before 9pm on Sunday night. It was received well and I got an offer.
But that resistance to doing the work – that was what was causing me to suffer, not the actual work itself. Now when I think about opportunities, the ones that lead to a better future and growth, I want the resolve to just do the work.
It’s like you are swimming to a destination, you can’t perform well if your head is constantly out of the water… thinking, judging, disagreeing. Part of the journey is just keeping your head down and doing the work. You raise your gaze up once in a while to check and make sure you are headed in the right direction, and maybe you make minor course corrections.
You don’t have to know the destination to choose a direction to move towards. A better body, healthier life, more freedom, wise choices. Each day that passes by is an opportunity cost, you either did things that day that advance you in your chosen direction, to the life you want… or you didn’t.
I heard the saying, you can either be BITTER or you can be BETTER. You choose.
What are good things you’ve worked on? What great things have you been avoiding?