Time Management Advice from Economists

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“A national chain of hamburger restaurants takes its name from Wimpy, Popeye’s portly friend with a voracious appetite but small exchequer, who made famous the line, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Wimpy nicely exemplifies the problems of “intertemporal choice” that intrigue behavioral economists like David Laibson. “There’s a fundamental tension, in humans and other animals, between seizing available rewards in the present, and being patient for rewards in the future,” he says. “It’s radically important. People very robustly want instant gratification right now, and want to be patient in the future. If you ask people, ‘Which do you want right now, fruit or chocolate?’ they say, ‘Chocolate!’ But if you ask, ‘Which one a week from now?’ they will say, ‘Fruit.’ Now we want chocolate, cigarettes, and a trashy movie. In the future, we want to eat fruit, to quit smoking, and to watch Bergman films.” …

Luckily, Odysseus also confronts the problem posed by Wimpy—and Homer’s hero solves the dilemma. The goddess Circe informs Odysseus that his ship will pass the island of the Sirens, whose irresistible singing can lure sailors to steer toward them and onto rocks. The Sirens are a marvelous metaphor for human appetite, both in its seductions and its pitfalls. Circe advises Odysseus to prepare for temptations to come: he must order his crew to stopper their ears with wax, so they cannot hear the Sirens’ songs, but he may hear the Sirens’ beautiful voices without risk if he has his sailors lash him to a mast, and commands them to ignore his pleas for release until they have passed beyond danger. “Odysseus pre-commits himself by doing this,” Laibson explains. “Binding himself to the mast prevents his future self from countermanding the decision made by his present self.”
- Source: The Marketplace of Perceptions

“My wife would tell you that my life works only because I am a workaholic. But I don't think of myself as a workaholic, and I don't feel like I am working hard. I just really enjoy what I do.”
- Greg Mankiw

“First, the best way to avoid a piled-up in tray is to deal with jobs immediately, either by doing them, or by deciding never to do them. This won’t work for every kind of job, but the more types of jobs you can handle in this way, the better. So to implement this tip you need a way of classifying jobs. One way is by the time they are likely to take (see tip #2). IF you take this approach you can decide to do all 5-minute jobs immediately, or not at all. I prefer to focus on discretionary jobs where an immediate decision not to take the job is feasible. For an academic, refereeing for journals is like this. I try to deal with requests for referee reports in the same week I get them. If I have free time, and the job looks straightforward on a first reading, I try to do it within two days. Editors who are used to waiting for months really love a quick turnaround like this, and I live in hope that it will build up good karma for my own submissions. If I can’t manage a report within a week then, unless the paper looks to be very important, or I am obligated to the journal in question, I reply immediately that I’m not available. Editors usually don’t mind this, especially if I can suggest someone else.”
- John Quggin

“There is always time to do more, most people, even the productive, have a day that is at least forty percent slack.

Do the most important things first in the day and don't let anybody stop you. Estimate "most important" using a zero discount rate. Don't make exceptions. The hours from 7 to 12 are your time to build for the future before the world descends on you.

Some tasks (drawing up outlines?) expand or contract to fill the time you give them. Shove all these into times when you are pressed to do something else very soon.

Each day stop writing just a bit before you have said everything you want to. Better to approach your next writing day "hungry" than to feel "written out." Your biggest enemy is a day spent not writing, not a day spent writing too little.

Blogging builds up good work habits; the deadline is always "now."
- Tyler Cowen’s 5 tips

I would also recommend to read Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s been more than a year since I started reading the book, still haven’t managed to complete it! As David says managing commitments well requires the implementation of some basic activities and behaviors:

"First of all, if it's on your mind, your mind isn't clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection bucket, that you know you'll come back to regularly and sort through.

Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.

Third, once you've decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly."


Dave Pollard has been attempting to implement the ‘Getting Things Done’ system.

43 Folders have more.

Or you might want to try Rumsfeld’s system of information retrieval.


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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on May 29, 2006 3:16 PM.

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