Trading time

25th February, 2006

Dear Economist,
I am experiencing the strains of being a final-year student. This semester alone I need to complete seven projects and assignments, work on my dissertation and sit five exams.
I am the captain of the karate club, which requires a big time commitment, and I am applying for graduate jobs, which means lots of interviews and assessment days in the next few months. There aren’t enough hours in the day – how do I prioritise my tasks effectively?
Derrick, via e-mail

Dear Derrick,

Clearly you are not an economics student or you would have already solved the linear programming problem necessary to optimise your allocation of time. Let me instead give you a couple of pointers.

First, your time is spent investing rather than consuming: sitting exams and applying for jobs will expand your consumption set in the future. Under the circumstances it would be reasonable to borrow. You can borrow a little time from the future with the help of stimulants but a more practical solution is to borrow money to save time. Quit any part-time job, take taxis, hire a cleaner and order take-aways. This will save time and you can deal with the cost later when you’ve secured one of those precious jobs.

More fundamentally, look for opportunities to gain from trade. Your karate appears to be an area of comparative advantage, so perhaps you could persuade some clever weakling to write your dissertation for you. In exchange, you could beat up the boyfriend of the girl he’s been lusting after.

Five minutes of applied karate practice for you would be a life-transforming experience for your assistant; well worth many days of work on your dissertation. Capitalism is not always pretty.

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