Are you one of those people that believes their time is their most valuable resource?
I think this is wrong. Your time is valuable, but what’s most valuable is your decision making & creative energy.
Consider two tasks:
- A task that requires you to drive 30 minutes, pick up a package, and drive 30 minutes back home.
- A task that requires you to sit and think hard for 60 minutes to make a decision.
Which is the more “expensive” task?
They take equal time, but the second is clearly more expensive. The first strictly consumes your time. Driving and picking up a package require trivial mental energy. The second consumes your time and mental energy. Your “mental bandwidth” is not free. It’s the most valuable resource you have.
How much bandwidth do you have for mentally intensive activities per day? This includes decision making and any kind of deep work (creative or technical). For me, it’s two or three activities max.
I have 10 hours per day that are not consumed by sleep, eating, or other types of overhead. This makes deep work activities 3-5 times more scarce than my raw time. If I value my time at $50 per hour, that would make each activity worth $150-$250. I haven’t thought about this deeply so this analysis might be unsound, but it’s a starting point. The point is that your mental energy is much more expensive than your time.
How does this change how you should make decisions?
Accounting for mental bandwidth in decision making
At the beginning of each potentially-intensive decision making process, you should make a meta-decision. You should decide whether it’s worth spending mental energy to optimize this decision. You can do this by evaluating what you stand to save by spending time & mental energy to create an optimized decision. If your mental energy costs much more than what you stand to save, you’re better off making an unoptimized decision. It might mean you pay more in real money, but it’ll be a net positive with your energy savings.
For example, say you’re buying a product. This decision has the potential to get complicated: Buying new will be more expensive, but will save you time and mental energy from doing research. Buying used will be less expensive, but will cost time, mental energy and potentially add complications (not getting 2 day shipping, product issues, worse day to day experience). What if I get an older model? That might be acceptable, which will save money.
A rigorous analysis of different purchasing options is draining and will consume one of your precious mentally intensive tasks for the day.
If the product costs in the hundreds of dollars, max savings in the low hundreds of dollars may not be worth it. If it costs in the tens of thousands, it may well be. Identifying a rough order of magnitude for yourself will help you make these decisions quickly in the future, saving you time and (most importantly) mental energy.
Your time is not your most valuable resource. It’s your decision making & creative energy (“mental bandwidth”). You can save it by making meta-decisions at the start of decision making processes to see how much an optimized, expensive decision matters.