Tag Archive for 'economics'

Time Debt and Harvard’s Addiction to Over-Commitment

My Economics professor made an interesting analogy last week, comparing time commitments to “time debt.” Harvard students have a tendency to “promise” time to other parties that will be collected at a future point in time in exchange for things like grades, money, fun, etc.

Unfortunately, we too suffer from time inconsistencies regarding our time use. We commit to too much now, but have to perhaps renege on our promises later. Time inconsistencies are generally used by economists to explain things like addiction to procrastination, but at the core of it all, is a self-control issue. Whereas some people cannot help but to pull out their credit card to buy that new pair of shoes, we cannot help but to say yes to an awesome opportunity that will only maybe just take 2 hours a week.

The funny thing about “time debt” — a promise to pay back time/effort at a future date — is that the interest compounds. Time commitments snow ball, people expect and demand more from you, and soon your 2 hour a week gig ends up 3 or 4 hours a week, during a week, of course, of midterms.

So what is this “time debt,” and why in the world is this a problem of many successful people?

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Surviving the Post-Midterm Blues

If you’ve just gotten your midterms back, perhaps you’re not too happy with your performance on some of them. Many people at Harvard are in fact disappointed with at least one midterm grade (or two). Sometimes, the midterms just don’t test what you thought you should know. Other times, you just didn’t attend lecture. Then there are those times, when the midterms cause mass damage to an entire class’s morale.

Regardless, it’s useful to sit back, relax and reflect a little, now that the crunch period is over.

Whether you want to pull up your grades or keep them strong, taking a few minutes to figure out what the hell your courses want from you will, maybe, save your arse in the long run.

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Must Reads: News Sites and Blogs

Every student has a (wireless) umbilical cord to the internet, which equals an addiction to information overload. However, there are a consistent number of websites that most Harvard students frequent that will always make for good conversation starters

— Hey, did you read that article in the New York Times?

Which article are you talking about?

Here’s a (partial) list of news sites and blogs that will keep you the ever informed Harvard student among Harvard students.

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Business Ain’t Science: Lessons from Observation

I come from a science-esque background, loving lots of data, data analysis, theory, graphs and abstracts. Because Harvard lacks a business/retail/management major, I found myself applying much of the scientific method to solving the business problem for my internship.

The scientific method, after all, has gotten us Einstein’s equations, so why shouldn’t we be able to use that same method to embark on the most basic human enterprise of business? Unfortunately, scientists and business people generally do not see eye-to-eye. A scientist appreciates the intricacies and design of a Segway. The business person ponders how Segways translates into dollars.

Understanding the difference between science and business is essential in making the leap from a scientist’s mindset to that of a business person.

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The Art of Managing Mental Space

Mental space — like physical space — is what we have very little of as college students. When I took on a leadership role in January, one of the former officers mentioned, “It doesn’t take up much time, but it takes up a lot of mental space.”

What she meant was that the amount of mental energy you needed to devote to the position was much larger than the time actually required. This struck me as an — oh, so that’s what I’ve been doing wrong all along — moment.

Last semester, I was at odds with my schedule (or google cal rather). I would stare at the white empty boxes that seemed to populate my schedule at the end of the week, but when I mentally sat down to balance the accounts, I kept coming up short. It seemed like I had a lot of free time (suppose n hours/week), but I didn’t seem to get n hours of work accomplished and I never actually felt like I was anything less than busy.

Troubling.

Thus, I will try to use the concept of “mental space” to better manage your time (and happiness!) in this entry.

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The Negative Externalities of the Cult(ure) of Over-Committing

It is a v. well-known fact that Harvard students tend to over-commit themselves to difficult classes, time consuming problem sets, sports teams, term-time jobs and leadership and axillary positions in approximately 13 extracurriculars.

While the effects of over-committing are well-documented (anxiety, stress, lack of sleep), the external effects of over-committing are often glossed over. In fact, we live in a culture that praises the nearly over-committed. We want people to work hard and long hours to achieve what they want (money, fame, success), but we don’t want them to necessarily crash and burn.

However, a population of the (nearly) over-committed isn’t quite optimal either.

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