When someone asks you if you’re “free” to catch up this weekend, what goes through your mind? I bet it’s not “well, I have nothing planned yet, so I’ll say ‘yes’ to whatever is suggested”. More than likely, you consider catching up with this person and compare it the others things you could use that time for: perhaps you feel like binge-watching Game of Thrones to get prepared for the next season; perhaps you have a lot of school/uni work to catch up on; or, you do feel like it’s time to catch up with someone but you’ve been neglecting closer friends than the person who is asking you to catch up.
What do you choose?
This is known as opportunity cost and is important in any decision involving limited resources. To keep things simple, it applies to any use of your time and money.
There is a cost because you can only do one thing at a time. Don’t confuse limited time with ‘we have a finite life, so time is important’, instead understand that it is ‘I have x units of time (say, a weekend) — what am I going to do with it?’
Out of everything you could possibly want to do on your purpose mission statement, goals you’ve set yourself, actions to take to make progress, improvements you want to make, or routine chores, what select tasks and activities will you choose to do next?
A Free Event
Have you ever been asked by a friend if you wanted to go to a free event? If you said no, did they get annoyed because it was a free event, and how could you not go?
Next time this happens, explain that there actually is a cost: your time. What you could be doing instead of going to that event.
It is hard to put a value on your time, but in a lot of cases you simply ask yourself which activity you would rather do. A simple but rough way to put a dollar value on your time is to give it your hourly rate at your job, then make an adjustment for the happiness and satisfaction you would get out of doing it.
For example, let’s say your hourly rate is $20 and the buttons on one of your nice shirts were ripped off. You never sew, so putting all of the buttons back on would take you a full hour, roughly $20 of your time. If you were to go to a clothing alterations store, they might be able to do it for $15. If this a purely cost-related question and this is a one-off, then the answer is obvious — get the store to do it for you because your time is worth more than that.
However, there are reasons why you still might choose to sew it yourself: (1) if you believe you will have to sew many buttons back onto clothing in the future, then learning the skill now might mean you can do it in 30 minutes next time — only $10 of your time; and (2) if you get some non-time/money satisfaction out of the chore, such as if you particularly enjoy sewing, find it relaxing, or get fulfilment out of learning new things.
Just be sure that, if you choose to do it yourself, then you are doing it for one of the reasons above. If you are doing it simply to save money, remember that you could have worked an extra hour and paid for it to be done. If you always choose to do tasks yourself that you could pay someone else to do for less than your time is worth, you will hold yourself back from making more productive use of your time. If you know you’re never going to need to sew again, then don’t do the sewing yourself. Work an extra hour at your job or work on your business (or do anything that provides you with your $20+ per hour rate) and you are better off for it.
How to Choose Your Next Actions
When it comes to making a decision regarding what to do with your next minute, hour, day, or week, assess you goals.
Likely, part of ‘how you want to live’ involves a balance of health, work, education, social life, and personal time. Additionally, your goals could involve absolutely anything, and you have the usual routine aspects of your life such as eating and drinking.
Keep all of those desires in your mind and attempt to roughly prioritise them: what is most important to you, and what is most urgent?
If you have nothing urgent to do, then do the activity that is most important to you first, based on your goals, needs, and aspirations. If some things are urgent, do the most urgent activity first.
Just remember that your time has a value and that anyone requesting you to use some of it should understand that there are other things that you might want to spend it on.