Fall Behind Strategically using Economics

My first semester was great. Despite the numerous exams I had (around 15) , I always managed to stay on top of my classes while having a job, going to the gym, etc… I thought the productivity system I had established for myself was perfect and would never fail me. Clearly, I was wrong; my second semester has completely destroyed my planning habits. In other words, my system failed me and I fell in a slump, which had never happened to me before.

So, what happened?

My classes this semester involve a lot of projects, which wasn’t the case during my first semester. Consequently, my productivity system wasn’t prepared for that type of work and failed me. Still, I thought that I would be able to stay up to date with all of my classes, but once the deadlines started piling up, I had to make a choice:

    • A.  Stay on top of all my classes AND complete every project in a timely manner by suffering through all-nighters
    • B. Prioritize my important assignments and fall behind in my classes, but no all-nighters

If you know me well enough, the answer is obvious: I NEVER pull all-nighters. I never have, and probably never will. On the other hand, if you were one of my high school classmates, you know that I’m always up to date in all of my classes and always get all of my work done on time.

Important lesson

At first sight, the thought of falling behind in some of my toughest classes seemed irrational. However, I came to the realization that IT IS ALRIGHT TO FALL BEHIND IN YOUR CLASSES, IT HAPPENS. As long as you follow these 2 golden rules:

  1. It is unacceptable to fall behind because of procrastination. It’s an invalid reason.
  2. Falling behind won’t affect your grades  

If these rules are followed, the consequences of falling behind won’t be as devastating in the long run.

How did I manage?

By the 3rd week of the semester, the deadlines were creeping up on me, but I knew I had the necessary tools in my arsenal to take control. The answer to my problems: Economics. Specifically Microeconomics. That class has turned me into a much better decision maker and everything, but it was time to apply my knowledge to solve an urgent problem

    • Opportunity cost (coût de renonciation en français) is a simple and fundamental economic principle that tells us that nothing is free. In other words, everything you do has a cost, whether it is a monetary cost or not. For example, my opportunity cost for writing this post is watching my favourite TV series. Essentially, I’m giving up time that could have been dedicated to watching my TV show in order to write this article. How did I apply this to my coursework? I simply prioritized my bigger projects, and made sure that most of my time was focused on them. For example, at some point I had to choose between completing a reading assignment for my IT class/doing some accounting problem sets and working on 2 IT projects worth 10% each/working on a very tedious accounting project worth 10%. I obviously chose the projects. The readings/problems did not have an immediate effect on my grade, so if I were to do them instead of my projects, I’d be maximizing my costs while minimizing my benefits, which is completely irrational.
      • IT reading=0% <IT projects=20% of final grade
      • Accounting problem sets=0%<Accounting project=10% of final grade
        • Applying this doesn’t have to be complicated: If you have a lot of upcoming deadlines, but don’t have the time to simultaneously stay on top of all your coursework, just take a look at your syllabus, check how much the assignments are worth and make sure that whenever you’re doing work, your costs are minimized and your benefits are maximized (i.e. if you have a 20% project and a 5% quiz coming up, focus most of your time on the 20% project)

 

  • Efficiency in microeconomics occurs when scarce (limited) resources are allocated to those who value them the most. As a result, Total Surplus (society’s economic well-being) is maximized. On the other hand, equality is when everyone gets treated equally and gets the same amount of the resources, regardless of how much they value them. Free markets are usually efficient. When the government starts regulating markets, it is usually for equality/equity; making sure the cake is sliced into equal pieces for everyone (it is much more complicated than that and there are cases where government intervention is necessary for efficiency, but for this topic I have to simplify). This is a big debate in Microeconomics, and the first year class is essentially founded on these 2 ideas (among other concepts of course). Now, how does that translate to student problems? Students tend to work equally on each and every class, which is a BIG mistake. Please, don’t believe the “For every hour in class, you should spend 2-3 hours outside of class” advice, it’s irrational.

 

    • All you have to do is identify how much you value a class/project and dedicate an amount of time that reflects your value. That’s it. Your goal is to maximize your economic well-being, which in this case is probably the grade you want to achieve, while avoiding the stress and reducing the time to complete the assignments. If you focus all of your time equally among those projects, you will end up producing mediocre work (and/or pulling all-nighters). Think about it for a second: If you have an easy class, with a professor that is generous with the grades, why bother spending 10 hours on a project worth 10% of your grade, and another 10 hours on a harder project in your favourite class, also worth 10%.  You could have spent ⅕ of your time on your first project and the remaining 16 hours on the one you value the most. Spreading your time equally is clearly inefficient and results in a deadweight loss of time; time you will never get back.
    • There’s also the aspect of minimizing your input (time, energy,…) to maximize your output (your finished work, your grade), but that will be covered in another post.

In short:

  • It’s alright to fall behind, but try to avoid it as much as possible and follow the 2 golden rules in the event that you have to do it
  • Use opportunity cost to determine which assignments should be at the top of your list, and the ones that can be pushed away so that you can focus on the big ones.
  • Determine how much you value a specific class/project in order to decide how much time should be allocated. Be EFFICIENT.

My next article will cover the most important part of falling behind, catching up and how I’m tweaking my productivity system to accommodate my schedule  🙂

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