Everything in Life Has an Opportunity Cost

“Opportunity cost is a huge filter in life. If you’ve got two suitors who are really eager to have you and one is way the hell better than the other, you do not have to spend much time with the other. And that’s the way we filter out buying opportunities.”
Charlie Munger, Investor

Everything in Life Has an Opportunity Cost

Doing One Thing Makes You Sacrifice the Opportunity to Do Something Else of Value

In economics, opportunity cost is the cost of not choosing the next best alternative for your money, time, or some other resource.

One of the foundational principles in economics is affirmed by the popular American aphorism, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Resources are scarce. When resources (time, money, mindshare, autonomy, and all that) are scarce, selecting one opportunity necessitates forgoing other opportunities.

Life is all about values and priorities. You face trade-offs. Life requires of you to make choices among mutually exclusive alternatives. Every time you select something, you forfeit other alternatives and the concomitant benefits. The cost of something is what you will give up to get it. This is opportunity cost.

You Can Do Anything but Not Everything … What Will You Sacrifice When You Choose One Option Over the Others?

When mulling over multiple choices, the quality of any option cannot be assessed in isolation from its alternatives. The price you pay (or the sacrifice you make, or the benefits you give up) for doing what you’ve chosen to do instead of doing something else is the opportunity cost.

In sum, an opportunity cost is the cost of passing up the opportunities that a different option would have afforded.

Many costs are calculated in terms of money. However, just because you don’t have to spend money to do something does not imply that the options you face are without their costs. For example, you don’t have to spend money to go for a hike or watch a sunset, but there is an opportunity cost there too. You could have used that time to do something else you value—visiting a friend or reading a book, perhaps.

  • If you decide to invest two years and some $100,000 getting an MBA at a brand-name business school, there’s an opportunity cost; it costs you lost wages and all the things you could have pursued during that time and with that money. But you anticipate that getting your MBA will pay off by way of a better job in a better company with a better salary.
  • If you spend your weeklong vacation taking your parents to a beach destination in Florida, there’s the opportunity cost of not going to Paris with your spouse.
  • Opportunity Costs Apply to All Your Choices If you decide to wake up twenty minutes earlier in the mornings to leave home sooner to work and beat the horrendous traffic, there’s the opportunity cost of twenty minutes of extra snoozing.
  • When the refrigerator at home breaks down and needs replacement, you will have to give up buying that latest big-screen TV you’ve been coveting.
  • There’s an opportunity cost to even reading this article at this moment. You could have been watching TV, taking a nap, calling up a friend, or moving on to another article in the time you’re devoting to reading this article.

In a nutshell, even decisions that appear to be no-brainers carry the hidden costs of the options you will decline. Thinking about opportunity costs may not change the decision you make, but it will give you a more rational assessment of the full implications of your decision.

Opportunity Costs Apply to All Your Choices—Big and Small

Opportunity cost is a concept of great magnitude. It is one of those apparently simple concepts in social sciences that are difficult to master and tough to put into consistent practice. Tim Harford, the British author of The Undercover Economist offers a particularly instructive example of appreciating opportunity costs in his Financial Times column:

Consider the following puzzle, a variant of which was set by Paul J Ferraro and Laura O Taylor to economists at a major academic conference back in 2005. Imagine that you have a free ticket (which you cannot resell) to see Radiohead performing. But, by a staggering coincidence, you could also go to see Lady Gaga—there are tickets on sale for £40. You’d be willing to pay £50 to see Lady Gaga on any given night, and her concert is the best alternative to seeing Radiohead. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either gig. What is the opportunity cost of seeing Radiohead? (a) £0, (b) £10, (c) £40 or (d) £50.

Answer: Going to see Lady Gaga would cost £40 but you’re willing to pay £50 any time to see her; therefore the net benefit of seeing Gaga is £10. If you use your free Radiohead ticket instead, you’re giving up that benefit, so the opportunity cost of seeing Radiohead is £10.

Learn to Evaluate Life Choices Via the Lens of Opportunity Costs—The Stakes Become Clearer

Evaluate Life Choices Via the Lens of Opportunity Costs You live in a world of scarcity and must therefore make choices. You cannot avoid regret since there are opportunity costs for every choice you will make.

Everything in life is about opportunity costs. Every time you say “yes” to a choice, you are also saying “no” to everything else you may have accomplished with your time, money, and resources.

Opportunity cost is a commanding tool that you should be wise to apply to all decision-making. If you integrate this concept into your thought process, you will not only make judicious choices, but also better understand the world in which you live.

Idea for Impact: Whether you’re choosing graduate school, mulling over switching careers, starting a business, investing your money, buying a car, or frittering away your evening watching TV, considering the value of forgone alternatives will help you make better choices. Make the lens of opportunity costs the underpinning of your decision-making processes.

Wealth and Status Are False Gods

Wealth and Status Are False GodsWhile it’s certainly one thing to know that money is a way to fulfill your requirements in life, it’s quite another when money becomes your primary motivation and measure of success, or when you come to equate happiness or worthiness with your wealth.

While there nothing characteristically wrong with material wealth or its pursuit, it’s easy to expect too much from money.

The New Testament (1 Timothy 6:10) reminds you to be aware of the difference between need and greed, “love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Money can push you to take on or keep you in unhealthy relationships and unsatisfying careers. It can lead you to neglect your social life and undervalue the importance of relationships. Besides, money can adulterate your soul, germinate dishonorable conduct, and make you unworthy regardless of the wealth you accumulate.

Status Is the Enemy of Passion

Prestige, cachet, status, wealth, and approval as dominant extrinsic motivators are appropriate and can be life-affirming in the short term, but they eventually confuse and undermine you from the things that do offer deeper rewards for a life well led. The British-American venture capitalist and essayist Paul Graham wrote in his stimulating 2006 article “How to Do What You Love” discussed the hollowness of pursuing “prestige”:

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.

….

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

….

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.

Materialism is Shallow

Modern society is remarkably driven by statusAs a modern society, we are remarkably driven by status—because we regard ourselves more worthy of others’ respect if we possess a home in a status neighborhood, a vacation property, brand-name or even designer-label clothes, luxury watches, expensive jewelry, and so on. But the pursuit of a materialistic lifestyle comes at a high cost.

Writing about the shallowness of materialism, the Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias wrote in Recapture the Wonder (2003),

In a culture where the possibility of wealth and the acquisition of things is so defining of success, we end up pursuing things that, even if we are successful, can never deliver what we envisioned they would. The reason riches become such a snare is because we end up evaluating life in mercenary terms and being seen by others in such terms, and life is just not so.

Money can buy lots of things that make us feel good and important. However, people preoccupied with money and status are never satisfied. Often, their desires and debts grow faster than their means. The more they have, the more they think they need. Discouraging gluttony and lavish spending habits, the great Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote (per Dialogues and Essays,)

Shun luxury, shun good fortune that makes men weak and causes their minds to grow sodden, and, unless something happens to remind them of their human lot, they waste away, lulled to sleep, as it were, in a drunkenness that has no end…. Although all things in excess bring harm, the greatest danger comes from excessive good fortune: it stirs the brain, invites the mind to entertain idle fancies, and shrouds in thick fog the distinction between falsehood and truth.

Idea for Impact: You are rich if you think you have enough

Put the value of money and the pursuit of wealth in perspectivePut the value of money and the pursuit of wealth in perspective. Feel rich and have a soft spot for certain indulgences. But, don’t get trapped in the spectacle of riches.

Being rich and seeking status can cost a fortune—the things that you may have to do to flaunt your wealth can cost almost as much as your wealth itself. As the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, “The money you have can give you freedom, but the money you pursue enslaves you.”

Weak Kindness & The Doormat Phenomenon: Balance Kindness with Strength

Kindness Can Be a Weakness

'The Art of Being Kind' by Stefan Einhorn (ISBN 0749940565) I’m currently reading Swedish oncologist Stefan Einhorn‘s The Art of Being Kind (2006.) Arguing that being a good person is the key to a happier and fulfilled life, Einhorn stresses (watch his TED talk) the need to distinguish ‘true’ kindness from ‘false’ kindness.

Einhorn describes three forms of false kindness:

  • Manipulative kindness where deceitful kindness masquerades as goodness. This superficial kindness is driven by some ulterior motive—to shrewdly obtain something, rather than to be genuinely helpful.
  • Stupid kindness that lacks appropriateness—trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, for instance.
  • Weak kindness is thinking that being kind sometimes means yielding and being a doormat to others’ demands.

Weak Kindness Will Make You a Doormat

The doormat phenomenon is the outcome of weak kindness where a doormat bends over backwards to desperately satisfy others, often resorting to do whatever it takes to try to make others happy, no matter how badly the others treat him/her. In the name of kindness, the doormat allows others to walk over him/her due to lack of strength, fear of conflict, or fear of rejection.

The doormat phenomenon is perpetuated primarily by an inability to say “no” effectively. Here are the consequences of being too gullible, too empathetic, and too timid.

  • Doormats neglect their own self-interests.
  • Doormats often resort to passive aggression and/or resentment. Eventually, they find themselves silently annoyed by others.
  • Doormats don’t enjoy spending time in a social context, since they resent the people they assist.
  • Doormats often face more demands than they can handle. Hence, being fully conscious of how they’re taken advantage of and unable of standing up for themselves, they suffer from stress and depression.

Don’t Be Duped by your Own Kindness

Weak Kindness & The Doormat Phenomenon: Balance Kindness with StrengthThe key to leading a wise and purposeful life is to balance kindness with strength. To be wise and kind,

  • Be profusely kind and obliging but never weak. Don’t give up your power to another person. Don’t become a people-pleaser. Don’t put everyone else before yourself.
  • Be vigilant for nefarious people and their hidden motives. Be alert and aware of the many negative ploys and manipulations you could confront.
  • Be assertive and stand up for yourself. Don’t say “yes” when you really want to say “no”. Don’t be so desperate to please others as to ignore your own priorities. Keep your own interests at the forefront of your mind.
  • Be on the lookout for win-win opportunities to be kind and giving. Don’t always prioritize other people’s needs above your own; seek opportunities to help out where you can expect some reciprocity. Successful people tend to ask for what they want.

The Chinese use a “flower and sword metaphor” to illustrate the need to balance kindness with strength. For the most part, present the world a flower—a symbol of kindness and compassion. However, when people try to take advantage of your kindness, that is to say when they try to crush the flower, wield the sword—a sign of protection and strength. The sword exists to protect the flower.

Idea for Impact: Wise kindness entails judiciously subjugating some of your self-interests sometimes in aid of others’ welfares, while still having the courage to stand up your values when necessary. Be kind when you can, and tough when you must. Remember, a wise person’s own happiness matters as much to him or her as the happiness of others—no more and no less.

You are Rich If You Think You Have Enough

You are Rich If You Think You Have EnoughMoney isn’t the most important thing in life, except when you truly don’t have enough of it. Nevertheless, virtually everyone at every income level seems to place too much importance on it.

The relationship between money and happiness is well established: money can buy happiness, but it can only buy less than most people think. Beyond a humble middle-class living, study after study shows that people with more money are no happier.

What Money Gets You

Wealth can actually give you three essential things.

Firstly, money can help establish a financial foundation. Money can reduce or eliminate the despair caused by poverty and debt. Once you amass a sufficient amount of wealth, financial troubles will not weigh on you so heavily. Money allows you to not only live a longer and healthier life, but also defend yourself against worry and harm. Further, a sizable wealth can give you independence from the entrapment of having to make money just to make money. Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman and Warren Buffet’s business partner Charlie Munger once said, “Like Warren, I had a considerable passion to get rich, not because I wanted Ferraris—I wanted the independence. I desperately wanted it.”

Secondly, wealth can allow you to have vacations, gatherings, and spend meaningful time with family and friends. Many studies have shown that the tenor of your social life is one of the most significant influences on your emotional wellbeing. Folks with many deep social connections are less likely to experience loneliness, sadness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating, sleeping, and relaxing.

Thirdly, wealth can allow you to invest your time absorbed in activities that you’re passionate about. Happiness research is clear: people are often happier when they spend their money on life experiences rather than on purchasing material goods. We humans seek meaning. Therefore, life experiences—especially those involving other people—make us happy primarily because events often generate vivid memories that we can later recall with pleasure. In contrast, we quickly adapt to material goods we purchase. Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert, author of the bestselling Stumbling on Happiness (2006,) explained the pleasure from buying experiences as opposed to material goods in a 2011 paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology:

After devoting days to selecting the perfect hardwood floor to install in a new condo, homebuyers find their once beloved Brazilian cherry floors quickly become nothing more than the unnoticed ground beneath their feet. In contrast, their memory of seeing a baby cheetah at dawn on an African safari continues to provide delight. Over time, {people exhibit} slower adaptation to experiential purchases than to material purchases. One reason why this happens is that people adapt most quickly to that which doesn’t change. Whereas cherry floorboards generally have the same size, shape, and color on the last day of the year as they did on the first, each session of a year-long cooking class is different from the one before.

Another reason why people seem to get more happiness from experiences than things is that they anticipate and remember the former more often than the latter. … Things bring us happiness when we use them, but not so much when we merely think about them. Experiences bring happiness in both cases …. We are more likely to mentally revisit our experiences than our things in part because our experiences are more centrally connected to our identities.

A final reason why experiences make us happier than things is that experiences are more likely to be shared with other people, and other people … are our greatest source of happiness.

Experiential Purchases Make People Happier Than Material Purchases.

Idea for Impact: You are Rich If You Think You Have Enough

Put the value of money and the pursuit of wealth in perspective.

Money is an opportunity for happiness. Money allows you to do what you please. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that more money and more material goods will unavoidably make you more happy. A certain amount of money will surely make life easier and satisfied, but more money and more material goods bring more problems.

Feel rich, have a soft spot for certain indulgences, and invest in memorable experiences rather than in material objects.

Don’t get trapped in the spectacle of riches.

Don’t let money own you.

The #1 Cost of Overwork is Personal Relationships

Is your career ruining your relationships?

There’s an old adage that no one ever said on his/her deathbed, “Gee, I wish I’d put more time in at the office.” Still, modern corporate life demands high-level performance for sustained periods.

Work has a tendency to capture people’s lives, leaving them out of focus and out of balance. Many people are working longer hours, often to the point of overlooking their individual needs: family, health, fitness, and home.

Is your career is ruining your relationships?

Personal relationships are often the first casualties of overwork. Hard workers are often in denial about the deterioration of their relationships. They unhesitatingly offer one of the many excuses that society seems to have sanctioned for overwork: “need to send the kids to private school,” “boss demands it,” “we’re experiencing quality problems and I’m making a good impression by firefighting”, “I’m keeping more patients alive,” and so forth. They are often the last to notice that their personal relationships are suffering.

As I mentioned in my article on willpower, many marriages go bad when stress at work is at its worst. This “muscle metaphor” for willpower, on a day-to-day basis, people use up all their willpower on the job; their home lives suffer because they give much to their work.

The time you do spend with your families can be more meaningful

'You Cant Predict a Hero' by Joseph Grano (ISBN 0470411678) Joe Grano, CEO of business consulting firm Centurion Holdings, used to work six days a week and almost every night. After years of slogging on Wall Street, his personal relationships worsened. Discussing how his ambition and long work hours led to his divorce (he had two daughters with his wife) in You Can’t Predict a Hero, Grano writes,

All successful, ambitious people are personally selfish to some degree. This goes beyond just the desire to pursue your self-interest in carving up the power and money in business. You can’t work the long hours that success requires and can’t set the individualistic priorities that ambition dictates without stealing somewhat from your loved ones. Some may think that a selfish perspective is rationalized with the rewards of money and prestige. Perhaps. But what if your loved ones don’t really care as much for those material rewards as you do? The truth is that successful people do what they do because they love doing it. The career is their passion, their mistress. It’s the adrenaline that drives their metabolism. The drive to spend those long hours working is as essential a part of their genetic makeup as is their DNA.

If you’re going to become a successful leader, you need to reconcile yourself to your own selfishness, not just the selfishness of others. Many of your peers will spend more time with their families than you do with yours. Finally, accept that the psychic rewards that come from your ambition and eventual success, while satisfying to you, may mean much less, if anything at all, to your loved ones. This is one of the prices of success. You’ll need to sacrifice on the amount of time you spend with your loved ones. Compensate by not sacrificing on the quality of that time.

Idea for Impact: Success doesn’t come without a price; neither does failure. With every choice comes consequences

What people really want and need is not work-life “balance,” but to live deeply satisfying lives both personally and professionally. The trick is a personal choice—to become more conscious of what and who matter most, and then to create the life you want.

Work-life balance isn’t so much about balance as it is about setting and living priorities. Remember, with every choice comes consequences.

8 Effective Ways to De-Stress This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season to feel harried.

The “most wonderful time of the year” can present plenty of reasons to be anxious and stressed—even depressed—during an occasion meant for cheerfulness and celebration.

According to this American Psychological Association survey, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men reported an increase in stress during the holidays. 59 percent of respondents testified to feeling nervous or sad, and 51 percent reported symptoms of fatigue.

De-Stress This Holiday Season

Here are some practical tips to help you minimize the stress that may accompany your holidays.

  • Plan ahead and take control of the holidays. Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Look back at prior years and identify your holiday triggers (cranky relatives, gifts, financial pressures, and end-of-the-year demands at work, etc.) so that you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. A little planning and positive thinking can go a long way in helping you find peace and joy during the holidays.
  • Get organized. Put first things first. Don’t get engulfed with demands and expectations. Establish relaxing surroundings. Commence each day by writing down whatever is most important for you to accomplish that day. Make decisions quickly and act upon them.
  • Be realistic and don’t pursue perfection. You are only one person—you can only do so much! Let go of your vision of a picture-perfect holiday. Be pragmatic about what you expect of yourself and others. Establish priorities, avoid procrastination, and let go of impossible goals. Relax and enjoy the companionship of family and friends.
  • Holiday Stress Relief Tips Take frequent breaks. When frazzled, take a nap, go for a short walk, read a book, or watch a funny movie.
  • Try adult coloring books. Studies have shown that coloring within lines inspires mindfulness—being in the present moment instead of in the past (associated with depression) or in the future (associated with anxiety.) Coloring books can set you in a relaxed, absorbed, meditative state and help you reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
  • Say ‘no’ generously. You don’t have to attend every holiday party you’re invited to—it’s OK to say ‘no’ to a few or all of them. Don’t skip the office holiday party, however—it’s a great opportunity to “get noticed.” Don’t overcommit yourself.
  • Meditate, if even for a few minutes. Sitting for just a few minutes of meditation can be an incredible sanctuary of calm and relaxation that you’ll seldom find during the holiday season. Meditation is known to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, strengthen the immune system, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Take time out of the day to lower your stress levels and focus on your well-being.
  • Maintain healthy eating and exercise habits. The holiday season is notorious for ruining healthy habits and adding a few extra pounds to waistlines. Fend off holiday weight gain by being mindful of what you eat and regulating portion sizes. Avoid starving yourself in anticipation of eating at holiday parties. Instead, consume some nourishing snacks to fill you up before dinner parties. Try simple, small workouts each day. Maintain a food and workout journal to help you stay committed to your health goals.

Tips to Relax During the Holidays

Idea for Impact: This holiday season, your needs belong to the top

When demands for your time intensify during the holiday season, you need to do more for yourself—not less.

In spite of everything, the holidays are less about gatherings, grub, and gifts—and more about finding peace and serenity for yourself and sharing it with your loved ones.

Happy holidays everyone!

Crayons and Coloring Paper Aren’t Just for Kids

Adult coloring books, composed of outlines of designs (geometric patterns, for example) that you can fill in with colored pencils or pens, have become hugely popular over the last few years.

'Secret Garden' by Johanna Basford (ISBN 1780671067) Coloring books for adults have been around for decades. However, the publication of French publisher Hachette Pratique’s Art-therapie: 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress (2012) and Scottish artist Johanna Basford‘s bestselling Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book (2013) and Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book (2015) ushered in a social phenomenon. Adult coloring books are among the top sellers on Amazon, and completed colored-in sheets are trending on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. And according to a New Yorker article, coloring books are “also part of a larger and more pervasive fashion among adults for childhood objects and experiences.”

Therapeutic Benefits of Coloring: Concentration and Mindfulness

The emotional benefits of drawing, coloring, and other forms of expressive art was first promoted in the 1920s by the eminent Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung. He noticed that coloring mandalas (ritual symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism) had a calming effect on his adult patients. He journalized (compiled in Jung on Active Imagination (1997)),

I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time. With the help of these drawings I could observe my psychic transformations from day to day … My mandalas were cryptograms…in which I saw the self—that is, my whole being—actively at work.

psychotherapeutic benefits of adult coloring books

Mindfulness Is Being Aware and Being Present on Purpose

Psychologists say that coloring within lines inspires mindfulness—being in the present moment rather than in the past (associated with depression) or in the future (associated with anxiety.) Besides, coloring books, like other forms of expressive art, can put you in a relaxed, absorbed, meditative state and help reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue.

In an essay on “Coloring Your Way Through Grief,”New York Times columnist Jane Brody discussed the many psychotherapeutic benefits of coloring:

While art therapy has been used for decades to help people express what they can’t put into words, filling in the spaces of a coloring book has a different kind of benefit: enabling people to relax and be more focused…. Coloring within an outlined structure can help to contain and organize feelings of distress and helplessness. Today, there are adult coloring books to help alleviate stress and anxiety, release anger, induce calm and enhance mindfulness… [They can] help people with losses of every kind, including illness, divorce, financial ruin, post-addiction—anything that might force people to redefine their identity.

Idea for Impact: Try adult coloring books for emotional grounding and relaxation. Many colorists find that selecting colors is reassuring. The intentional focus on the coloring process and the repetitive movements can form the underpinning of many self-soothing activities.

How to Leave Work at Work

Employees are expected to be 100% on

Leave Work at Work There was once a time when people went to work, clocked in, put in their hours, clocked out, and forgot all about work until the next day. They fully disconnected from work and took real vacations. They maintained a healthy separation between their work time and their personal time.

Alas, those good times are long gone. Today’s challenging and competitive workplace demands of people not only their stamina to work exceptionally hard but also their hearts-and-minds’ commitment to bring creativity and insight to their efforts.

The pressure to constantly prove themselves is also exacerbated by how modern society judges people by their professional and financial successes—what they do, what they’ve accomplished, and how quickly they’ve accomplished it.

People are expected to be 100% on, take work home, and check in during their vacations. The upshot is that many people have real trouble turning work off. Work-related thoughts encroach upon their off-work hours. Some even lose sleep or wake up in the middle of the night thinking about their work.

Don’t bring work home in your head

  • Get a Life. Have a life to go to after you leave work. Develop a rich social life. Invest more time in your relationships. Get involved in absorbing activities, events, and hobbies. Schedule fun activities—you’ll have something to look forward to at the end of your workday.
  • Organize your workday. Structure your schedule to prevent hustling through work towards the end of the day. Be realistic about what you want to accomplish. In the middle of the afternoon, review the tasks ahead. Prioritize, reorganize, and pace yourself to wind down your workday. Do not answer phone calls or email during the last hour.
  • Organize and prioritize your next day’s schedule before you leave your office. Clean off your desk at the end of each day. This not only brings about a feeling of order and completion, but also helps you tune down and free up your mind.
  • Create a buffer between work and home. Stop by a gym, go shopping, or visit a friend. After you get home, change clothes, go for a walk, or do something relaxing to mark the transition and create a relaxed mindset for the evening.
  • Vent if necessary. Ask your loved ones to give you a few minutes to “let it out.” Expect them to just listen and be non-judgmental.
  • Don’t bring work home. Leave your briefcase, laptop, reports, and work-related reading at your desk.
  • Disconnect. Modern technology makes it easier for you to stay connected, but also makes it more difficult than ever to leave work at work. Leave your laptop at work. Turn off email and instant messaging on your phone. Resist the temptation to check your email on the family computer. Don’t visit the business center at the hotel when you’re on vacation.
  • Delegate and cross-train your staff to handle some of your responsibilities while you’re away.
  • Stop checking in with the office, especially when you’re on vacation. Your team will get along fine without you around. Crises will get managed, production will continue, customers will continue to be satisfied, and you’ll still have your job when you return. Let your team know how to find you in a dire emergency, but ask them not to bother you with the inconsequential stuff.

Idea for Impact: Don’t let work take over your life. Establish boundaries.

Don’t let your work run you. Don’t take work home literally (in your bag/briefcase or on your laptop) or figuratively (in your head). Enjoy your downtime.

Learn to disconnect from work unreservedly and spend time with your family. Play with the kids. Quality time with your loved ones is often more rewarding than your time at work. And perhaps by doing less work, you may end up loving your job more.

Don’t Be Too Helpful at Work

Agreeableness Can Go Too Far

Consider the case of Sherry, a discontented claims adjustor at an insurance firm. She is a star employee and an excellent team player. In a bid to be seen as obliging, Sherry always agrees to do everything she is asked to do by her supervisors and her colleagues. She ends up taking on a lot of extra work.

Sherry gets much praise for helping out as much as she can. However, she feels constantly overworked. This excessive dedication has left her with neither the time nor the energy for leisure or family. Her discontent materializes from the fact that her inability to say “no” is actually holding her back from some of her primary priorities.

Don't Be Too Helpful at Work

Too Much Congeniality Can Be Counterproductive

We live in an era in which self-interest is contemptible. People who aren’t generous and altruistic are branded as uncaring and greedy—even evil. At work, one mark of a high-performing employee is the ability to bring discretionary effort at work. This implies willingly dedicating energy and attention beyond the basic requirements of the role. Employees who are agreeable and helpful are much favored to those who are not so obliging.

Nonetheless, as a whole, there are dangers of being too helpful in a workplace. Employees like Sherry frequently find themselves overloaded with tasks that aren’t really part of their responsibility, tasks that are difficult to execute well, and tasks that that others don’t want to undertake because they are uninteresting or low-status in the organization. These supplementary tasks may stop obliging employees from doing their own work to the expected standard. Eventually, they get branded with humdrum work and may even be overlooked for higher-status work assignments or for promotion to senior roles.

If you’re one of those employees who is accommodating or strives to be seen as such, curtail your impulse to say “yes” to whatever people ask you to do. Don’t change abruptly from being a friendly, accommodating employee into an obstinate, unhelpful person.

Be judicious in undertaking extra work if it is only desirable in light of your priorities and the personal image you want to sustain. If the prospective task conflicts with your priorities, you are within your rights to say “no” (see my previous article on nice ways to do so.)

Idea for Impact: There is a Limit to the Results Being Nice Will Get You

While it is virtuous to think of others first at both work and home, devoting all of your time for others can stand in the way of caring for yourself. Your work-life balance can suffer.

Addressing your own needs first is not only incredibly beneficial for your well-being, but also vital to your ability to care for others. Be prudent. Stand up for yourself. Be mindful of your priorities. Be attentive to your own needs. Practice saying “no.” Learn to be assertive.

To Become Time-Conscious, Always Ask, “Is It a Priority?”

To Become Time-Conscious, Always Ask, 'Is It a Priority?'

As I wrote in my three-part series on time logging, time analyzing, and time budgeting, life is all about values and the relative priorities you attach to these values.

Priorities imply choice; you get to make a choice in almost everything you do. Every choice involves tradeoffs: when you choose to do something, it implies that you choose not do something else.

Before being sucked into doing anything, ask, “Is this the best use of my time?”

Another way to think about this is in terms of “opportunity cost.” Everything in life has an opportunity cost. Whenever you take up one opportunity, you forfeit another. When you choose to go to a movie with a friend, it means you aren’t going to the library to work on a research paper that’s due next week. When you choose to spend this month’s savings on new furniture, it means you can’t add to your retirement account. So, when making decisions about anything, keep opportunity costs in mind. Be aware of what you’re giving up.

One of the most important choices you make—often subconsciously—is how you use your time, which is your most important resource. Before doing anything, be aware of what you are giving up; decide whether the benefits are worth the time you’re investing in the task.

The Nagging “5-5-5” Questions

Is It a Priority Poor time management often has less to do with your packed schedule than with your indecisive, unorganized, or undisciplined mind. To improve your life, stop wasting time on things that don’t matter. Have a little voice in your head that constantly nags you by asking the following “5-5-5” questions:

  • Is this a priority?
  • Will this matter in 5 days?
  • Will this matter in 5 months?
  • Will this matter in 5 years?

The “5-5-5” questions will prevent you from being caught up in little tasks and trivialities that aren’t truly important.

Idea for Impact: Be time conscious; constantly ask yourself, “Is this time-effective?”

According to my world’s shortest course on time management, “There are countless things you can do. There are numerous things you want to do. There are several things others expect you to do. There are many things you think you are supposed to do. However, there are only a few things that you must do. Focus on those and avoid the rest.”

As I mentioned in my article “don’t say ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’,” don’t be vulnerable enough to be pulled along by forces that are beyond your control. Be accommodating when you can and assertive when you must. Be intentional about how you choose to use our time. Your life depends on it.