Don’t waste time


Using cognitive discipline to put your knowledge to work

By Nelu Oncel, Contributor

I once heard that he who says he knows everything knows nothing. Knowledge encompasses a breadth of information that, without the appropriate cognitive discipline, cannot properly be applied. Proper application of knowledge entails analyzing acquired information and using it to make better decisions, which takes time, but ultimately has the potential to stimulate economic growth.

How do we interpret this knowledge effectively and use it to boost overall growth? Well, we can begin by acknowledging the two main sources from which we derive what we know: academia and personal life experiences.

Academia teaches us the facts while life experiences test the validity of these facts. In economics, for instance, we study the allocation of scarce resources efficiently in order maximize our potential output, but seldom apply this notion to our daily routines.

To illustrate, model A is an example of a production possibilities frontier (PPF). This curve represents all maximum output possibilities for two or more goods (choices) given our limited resources; anything beyond this point cannot be attained, and everything else within the curve is attainable.

All points along the PPF curve assume all resources are being used efficiently (in other words, all our available resources are being used to reach our production capacity at every point on the line). Seldom do we reach this point, and it is usually due to lack of effort or misallocation of resources—which, most importantly, are constrained by the time available to us.

With this simple economic concept in mind, let’s think about how we can allocate our efforts towards producing better decisions that are more likely to stimulate overall growth. But before I use an example let’s examine two factors that increase the PPF curve (illustrated in model B by an outward shift of the curve), bringing about more choices to consider and further increase growth.

One factor is an increase in our available resources and the other is technological improvements or advancements. A resource is defined as “a source or supply from which benefit is produced.” Time can be seen as a supply. The only issue with time is that its quantity cannot be changed, although you can change how it is allocated. Therefore, if we collectively allocate our time towards productive efforts, we can indulge in the spoils of progress. However, allocating time in a productive manner is a choice.

So let’s look at two choices now that we might encounter as academics and analyze the results each produce.

Have you ever been caught up with your studies and gotten to a point where you feel like you know most of the material but at the same time don’t feel too confident? Then out of the blue a friend calls and asks you to go out to a movie. What do you think most of us would choose to do in this situation? Is it not fair to predict that most of you reading might choose the latter option?

There certainly isn’t anything wrong with taking a break from your studies, but rarely do we consider the true costs of our choices. So what have you truly sacrificed? Let’s exclude the cost of our evening and concentrate on the time we’ve allocated to such an activity. Are we better off when we get home and realize that now we have to review some of the material again, because we’ve either lost some of what we’ve spent so much time and effort in retaining, or need to go over the last concept we didn’t fully understand before we left?

At this point we’re just catching up with time lost and going back to what we should have done before, whereas if we went with the first option and allocated our full time to studying we might receive a better mark on the exam. Eventually, after persistently making the same choice, this could translate into acceptance into our dream university.

So aren’t we just delaying the things we know we should be doing? It gets to a point where an idea that could have been produced at an earlier time—and contributed to the stimulation of growth—is only delayed due a lack of effort and misallocation of time (i.e. making an unwise decision).

Growth begins with the meticulous consideration of choices and their costs (which, as explained, takes time). Avoiding choices with severe long-term costs that hinder growth should be of priority. The problem resides in our nature not to act out of benevolence when making choices but out of our own self-interests, an intrinsic flaw we possess that causes us to suffer the long-term repercussions of our actions—in effect, we learn the hard way.

So let’s work together and grow faster; let’s not waste time.