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Latest insights and trends in Personal Analytics, Operational Intelligence, and Workplace Productivity.

Apr 29
Personal Analytics and Opportunity Costs

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Source:  The Happiness Project

I exchanged several emails last week with Bob Troia, an influential Quantified Self (QS) tracker and biohacker, who, he says, is on a quest for self-knowledge through experimentation and personal analytics.  Bob’s motto, according to his excellent Quantified Bob blog, is “Hack. Track. Analyze. Optimize.  Rinse. Repeat.”  Which allows me just enough leeway to repeat an old joke about the hacker who drowns in the shower because he followed the “shampoo, rinse, repeat” instructions on his shampoo bottle a little too literally.

My conversation with Bob focused on the topic of ‘opportunity costs,’ especially as they relate to a post by another Quantified Selfer, Tom Van Aantwerp, who recently finished a two-week QS experiment logging his leisure time and discovered (to his chagrin) that he had spent 54 hours and 28 minutes playing video games.  Based on his freelance rate of $50/hour, Van Aantwerp calculated that video games were costing him over $70K per year in opportunity costs.  Opportunity costs, in economic terms, are the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen over others. 

Like Van Aantwerp, Bob says he’s trying to analyze the opportunity costs of doing a specific action in his Quantified Self experiments.  This leads him to ask questions like

  • “do I walk my dog for 30 minutes or pay someone else to do it so I can do 30 minutes of work and make more money?
  • is there a level of enjoyment I get out of spending time with my dog that exceeds the financial benefit of not doing it? “

Calculating opportunity costs—in my view—first requires you to prioritize your activities and/or relationships (i.e. time spent with a dog versus a cat).  Presumably, a QS algorithm to calculate opportunity costs would also check your bank balance before recommending you either walk your dog yourself or pay someone else to do it.  In Bob’s view, opportunity costs aren't just financial; they can be emotional as well. “While paying someone to walk my dog might net out to be financially better, there is an emotional pleasure I might get from spending time with my dog that outweighs the financial benefit.”

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Spend a little of your valuable time and enlighten us with your viewpoint on opportunity costs.  Which is more important to you:  financial reward or emotional pleasure?   Or are you drowning in data because you can’t prioritize what’s important and what’s not in your QS experiments?  


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