Friday, January 24, 2020

The Cost of Doing Nothing

It's easy to get distracted. Not just when you're a Twitch streamer, of course, but in all aspects of life. There are so many ways in which time or energy can simply slip away, without us even knowing where it all went. Do you know how many times you check your phone per day? How about when your work gets interrupted by some idle task around the house? What about the amount of times per week or month that you go down the rabbit hole, researching some subject that isn't immediately relevant to your goals? Little pleasures like social media, tidying up, information binges, and countless other activities can be vastly therapeutic. But what happens when we have too many of these little pleasures? As I've outlined in previous entries, this clutter can cause us to accidentally push away our most important long-term plans.

But what if there was a way to quantify the exact moment that some small, insignificant task breaks the camel's back and stops us from doing what's really important? There's a very simple metric that every ultra-productive person is aware of, whether they have a name for it or not. Mastering this will further your efforts not only to find time to stream, but the mental energy and willingness to stream. You need to learn the cost of doing nothing. 


Let's say you have two hours on a given night, and you choose to go out and see a movie. What does this cost? Probably the price of gas, plus the price of the ticket, plus the price of popcorn or other concessions. But there's another hidden cost- one associated with what you chose not to do. Let's say you're a student, and you have an unfinished paper due tomorrow, which would have taken two hours to write. Since you spent that time on the movie, your choice didn't only cost money- it also cost you your grade.

Everything creates ripples.
This concept is called opportunity cost. In its most basic form, opportunity cost is a measurement used by economists to figure out how much money it costs to not do something. Most of us want to believe that our time is free- that if we aren't directly under a deadline to do something, we can do whatever we want. This is only partially true- we can do whatever we want, but our time is most certainly not free- we are paying for every moment.

The previous example about going to a movie vs doing homework is pretty easy for most of us to understand, because it's an equivalent exchange- trading this two-hour task for that one. But if you look deeper, things get a lot trickier. Tiny, seemingly unrelated things we do can topple massive ambitions, if we're not paying attention to their cost. Habitually scrolling through Instagram could cost you your streaming career, for example. This is trickier to explain, but think of it this way: Let's say a restaurant offers only two fixed options: a $2 bag of potato chips or a $30 steak. (we'll assume tax and tip are included, and don't think too hard why a restaurant sells bags of potato chips- just go with it). You have exactly $30 in your pocket. You're only a little hungry so you buy the $2 snack instead of the $30 steak. It's pretty clear that you can afford this. But when the food comes, you realize you're hungrier than you originally thought. There's a problem though: you now only have $28 left. Buying the $2 snack cost you the opportunity to also buy the $30 meal, even though the $2 snack was well within your price range at the time. So what do you do? You buy more $2 snacks to fill yourself up, but no matter how many bags of chips you eat, they won't be as nourishing as eating an actual meal.

Imagine scrolling through Instagram, binging on Netflix, aimlessly shopping, or anything else that doesn't accomplish your immediate goal as the snack, and your dream of Twitch streaming as the dinner. One indulgence won't kill your dream, but too many of these put together will. If you haven't started streaming yet, or if you've lapsed out of streaming for any reason at any time, you've probably already fallen victim to this, without even realizing. It's easy to waste time without thinking about what it really costs you, until it's too late.


It's clear that we need to measure the opportunity cost of the things we do. As I've mentioned in previous entries, even time that you're simply killing while at work or school shouldn't be wasted on low-value activities. Everything you do has a consequence, and your time is more valuable than you think.

The smallest idle tasks can topple your biggest
Our phones are major timekillers- social media, group chats, rummaging through cluttered email inboxes, these devices are packed with all sorts of things that sap our attention throughout the day. This can create a general lethargy by the time you arrive home, so you feel like you were busy all day, not because you did any work toward your goals, but because you constantly responded to the pings in your pocket. The average American checks their phone more than 50 times per day. That's a lot. To put some real-world weight to this, that means if you put as little as a quarter in a jar every time you checked your phone, you'd have more than $80 in a single week, $375 in a month and $4,500 collected in a year! Now, nobody is taking a quarter from you every time you check your phone, but maybe they should be. Consider how much productive work or thought could have happened each time you idly raised your phone to scroll through Instagram or Facebook yesterday. Even at work or school, time spent cramming your brain with useless stuff could instead have been filled with problem solving. I get some of my best ideas when I'm not streaming- if I wasn't allowing my mind time to think, I never would have come up with them at all.

Everything you do in life has an opportunity cost. If you're doing something regularly that isn't streaming, you need to assess whether that thing is more important to you than your dream. Laying around the house, waking up late, exercising at the gym, taking long lunches, compulsively checking Twitter or Reddit, even cooking dinner- anything and everything you could do. Not every action is bad for you, but every action does have a cost, and therefore should be measured. Getting sucked into a protracted Twitter argument one day might sap not only your time, but also enough energy that you don't want to stream. If you're starting from the beginning, binging Netflix or scrolling through your Instagram last night may have prevented you from creating your channel altogether. For advice on how to remove low-value activities from your day, see the entry How to Easily Free Up Time for Twitch. Limit the number of unproductive things you allow yourself to do in a day, and don't let yourself get tired out by busywork. It's easy to spend time doing mindless tasks, because it feels like that time doesn't cost anything. But in reality, those indulgences could cost you everything.


Once we leave school or work and arrive home, we feel like all our time is free again. But this is when it's more important than ever that you attempt to actually do something with that time. Any weeks, months, years that most of us spend just existing without working toward our dreams is time directly being removed from our creative lifespan. If you're dreaming of being a Twitch streamer (or anything for that matter) and you still haven't started taking action and building something, do it right now. Don't wait any longer. Stop paying the opportunity cost and start reaching for the actual opportunity!

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