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What is Your Opportunity Cost?

Posted in Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on August 20, 2007

Lifehacks and Productivity

Sensible people live their lives balancing their focus on what is important to them.

Work life balance

In the opposite end of the ring are people like me who have no concept of balance. I will work in high stress jobs that require lots of overtime and still try to maintain isolationist hobbies that also require a lot of time and effort. The rest of my life gets squished into the edges with no slack time at all.

work life unbalance

Living such a lifestyle can have great temporary gains in the areas you focus on, but they are quickly counterbalanced by the other areas in your life that you aren’t paying attention to. Any slack time is immediately taken over by the need for sleep, need for exercise, or often unrecognized need for genuine human contact. What many people don’t consciously think about when they are squishing their lives to focus on one thing is the opportunity cost for the areas they are ignoring.

If a city decides to build a hospital on vacant land it owns, the opportunity cost is the cost of some other thing which might have been done with the land and construction funds instead. In building the hospital, the city has forgone the opportunity to build a sporting center on that land, or a parking lot, or the ability to sell the land to reduce the city’s debt, since those uses tend to be mutually exclusive. Even the possibility of inaction is a lost opportunity (in this example, to preserve the scenery as-is for neighboring areas, perhaps including areas that it itself owns).


Even though you may feel like you are gaining in whatever short term goals you are focusing on, you may be missing out on much more important opportunities because you don’t have the attention to notice them or the free time to spend on them.

  • Letting family members feel loved and nurtured can greatly reduce the stress in the rest of your life.
  • Deepening friendships can provide you with a support network for when you really need it.
  • Focusing on hobbies that are creative/social outlets rather than “time wasters” can enrich your life without taking needless attention away from other endeavors.
  • Regular exercise can improve energy levels, increase your health, and give you a reservoir for dealing with conflict.
  • Getting enough sleep leads to better health, proper eating, and less crankiness.
  • Quitting jobs that require all of your time and leave you feeling drained.
  • Slack time is essential for being able to recognize and act on opportunities that come your way.

In the Luck Factor, Professor Richard Wiseman details a study where he asked participants to count the number of photographs in a sample newspaper. Subjects who had described themselves as “lucky” were much more likely to notice a message on page two, disguised as a half-page advertisement with large block letters: STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.

Obviously some measure of luck is based on chance, but this experiment and many others have led Wiseman to conclude that a significant portion of one’s good fortune is not random, but rather due to one’s state of mind and behaviors. He concludes that luck is an artifact of psychology, where a person is lucky not because of cosmic accidents, but because one achieves a particular mindset which precipitates and amplifies “lucky” events. While this observation may seem obvious, there are many interesting particulars in his findings.


Over the past month I’ve had the following opportunities related to blogging that I haven’t been able to fully capitalize on:

Those are just the missed opportunities related to my hobby of blogging. They do not including the opportunities I may be missing in the rest of my life from spending so much time on blogging. Having your finger in so many pies leaves no room to try more of the other delicious pies out there. It seems so counterproductive to cultivate having slack time in your schedule, but it is what is needed to be able to recognize and respond quickly when opportunity comes knocking.

7 Habits for Highly Effective People deals with this subject in the chapter “Put First Things First”.

“Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems.”

What opportunities are you missing by focusing on the urgent instead of focusing on important? What lucky coincidences have you missed by not being open to them?

15 Responses

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  1. engtech said, on August 20, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    In the name of putting first things first, I did not spend more than 1 minute creating those pie charts. :)

  2. brightfeather said, on August 20, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    The pie charts say it all to those of us who cotton to graphics. We experience people every day who priorize their work above their family, friends, fitness and health. Well, somewhere between the ages of 30 and 50 they burn out and take everyone they neglected down with them.

  3. raincoaster said, on August 20, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    Definitely theft-worthy. One of your best posts!

  4. […] between choices made and choices forgone. On internetducttape, engtech has a good post about weighing the cost of your life choices and making informed decisions, including the decision to incorporate deliberately “unproductive” time in your […]

  5. savino said, on August 21, 2007 at 5:29 am

    Top stuff. Great post, really.

  6. […] even taking the time to respond to comments on my own blog!) Like with all things, the secret is to find balance between conflicting goals. Many of those comments can easily turn into posts of their own with a little elbow grease. Use […]

  7. bs angel said, on August 21, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    I wonder if I would have seen that newspaper ad.

    I am very off balance as well. The smallest slice in my pie would probably be sleep. That is what I choose to neglect in favor of other things. *yawn

    Awesome read, as always!

  8. Design for MySpace said, on August 22, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Didn’t spend much of effort while creating the pie charts :) The opp. cost post reflects authority

  9. engtech said, on August 23, 2007 at 10:45 pm


    Sometimes I feel like I burn out every two years or so, and then I take an extended break from computers.

  10. engtech said, on August 23, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    @bs angel:

    I’m a big self-sleep depriver as well.

    What I’ve been doing lately is sacrilege – I’ve avoided picking up Bioshock, the Darkness or Overlord and instead I’ll wait until I “have free time” to play them.

    It could happen!

  11. bs angel said, on August 24, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Don’t feel bad, I have done the same thing.

    I also haven’t picked up BioShock until I have more time to actually play it. Don’t tell anybody though, that would completely ruin my reputation. Ssshhh …

    Perhaps one day I will find that balance that we are all looking for. We’ll see.

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  13. online shopping said, on July 24, 2008 at 4:42 am

    This scale is incredibly helpful. I must admit that I’m definitely like you. I don’t have ANY slack time. When I do have slack time, I’ll fill it in with a hobby or maybe something else. But I won’t fill slack time with slacking. I feel as if I’m stealing air from this world if I just sit around and do nothing. If I have to do nothing, I’ll make it a learning time – read a book, do some research etc. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing…

  14. portrait paintings said, on September 01, 2008 at 12:12 am

    For the past few months my life has been like that of the second pie chart. Despite of noteworthy successes in my career I still felt incomplete. That is because I have no one to share with the success – no family, little friends, etc. Time Quality Manager (TQM) coupled with mature and professional prioritizing of things to be done are indeed important for a successful and fulfilling life.

  15. Short Sale Assistance said, on May 02, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Awesome post. I will be sure to come back and also tell others about your site. Nice Post

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