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Opportunity Costs

It is said that everything in life is a tradeoff. You can’t be married and have all the freedoms of a single life. You can't have kids and have lots of time for yourself. You can't have a busy weekend and get lots of rest. You can’t be a leader and be free of responsibility. You can't be an entrepreneur and enjoy a sense of safety. You can't be rich and famous without sacrificing privacy and normalcy.

We must make choices with our time and energy, and sometimes it may feel like an equal trade. But you must also consider the “opportunity cost” with every decision. Every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you say ‘no’ to dozens of other things.

The same applies to Education.

When you say ‘yes’ to teaching an extra class, you say ‘no’ to expanding work-based learning opportunities for your students. When you take out student loans for grad school, you say ‘no’ to presenting at conferences and serving on accreditation teams. When you say ‘yes’ to attending/leading a committee meeting, you say ‘no’ to developing a targeted marketing plan to fill your programs. When you invest hundreds of hours into a program that only serves 50 students, you are saying ‘no’ and denying hundreds of other students any support or guidance from you.

The opportunity costs of some trades are not worth it. Some are “bad trades.” They do not serve your students well and only ensure you burn out. But these trades are often camouflaged because we see that a few students benefited., or we have a “feel good” moment that clouds our objective judgment.

With limited time and constant requests for your attention, we are playing a game of continuous trades. You want to focus on activities that have maximum impact in advancing your personal goals and institutional mission. But that requires you to evaluate the investment of time and measure the true impact of each of your decisions.

Here are Four key strategies to help you:

  1. Clearly identify your priorities: Peter Drucker, management guru, recommended that individuals and organizations identify and prioritize their most important objectives. And actively avoid everything else. Focusing on these high-priority activities ensures that your time and resources are effectively used.

  2. Determine your core strengths: We all know it is essential to know your strengths and weaknesses. But how are you focusing on activities that leverage your strengths to increase your impact and avoid wasting time on tasks unsuited to your skills?

  3. That leads us to number 3: Delegate non-essential tasks: Assigning some tasks to others is essential for maximizing your impact and avoiding time-wasting activities so that you can free up your time and focus on higher-value activities. Maybe you hire a student to assist with routine or non-essential tasks, perhaps it’s a faculty stipend to help you, or maybe you stop doing some things that suck your time away, which you know are primarily bureaucratic and not advancing you forward.

  4. Last and most importantly, continuously evaluate your activities: You must regularly pause and assess where your time is going to ensure that you are aligned with your top objectives and producing results. When working with educational leaders, I prefer the Task Priority quadrants and attributing weight values to all activities in a Prioritization Matrix. But there are many tools to help you identify areas where you can improve and avoid wasting time on activities that do not contribute to your goals. Pick your favorite approach. And if you think you’re doing this in your head…you’re not…at least not effectively.

Now, you probably already know these four key strategies. But are you practicing them with fidelity?

You must effectively use your time to move the needle and make a real impact on the students and communities you serve. And effective time management requires a focus on high-impact activities and a clear understanding of your opportunity costs.

You’ve got this!

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