Investors have a term for it: The ROI—Return on Investment. It means the benefit from what you’ve put in. And it’s a good way to quickly see where you’re wasting your money, and where else you might want to focus your attention.
But it’s also a wonderful standard to use when measuring our time, not just our money. By asking “What’s the ROI?” of our daily activities, we can see where our most precious commodity—time– might be getting squandered, and other places where we’d be smart to invest more of it. It’s also a great way to realize that some of our commitments, such as reading scriptures or attending the temple, have the best ROI of anything we could be doing.
Look at child-rearing. The world would tell you it’s drudgery, mundane repetition, a thankless sacrifice. But if you see it as an investor, suddenly you realize the ROI is huge—colossal, even. Worth every second you can spare. To shape and form someone’s life? To help them succeed spiritually, emotionally? Wow. Just wow. Suddenly all the competing offers look like bad financial advice, right? Leave my child to do that? No way.
Let’s look at a list of things that draw large chunks of time from many people. As you scan this list, ask yourself what you get back from each one:
I like plays, movies, and eating out. I like travel and shopping. I’m not saying anything on this list is a sin, or is a bad choice. Unless we begin to give them the lion’s share of our time. Many good pursuits—even family history—can be taken to an all-consuming extreme that leaves us out of balance. The key is to look at the Return on Investment.
Let’s begin with the first item: Videogames. Played now and again, they can be a fun break from tedious obligations, no different from watching a TV show or playing a sport. The return on investment could be a good one—a refreshed outlook that brings you back to life’s duties with a brain that’s had a break. But what if they begin to monopolize your day, going from a few minutes to hours and hours? Social media can be just as addictive. Now, suddenly, the Return on Investment doesn’t look so wise. You’re investing a huge portion of your day in solitary amusement and gaining… well, not much.
How about travel? Many would say it’s an indulgence, an unnecessary expense. However, if it results in wonderful family memories, greater understanding of other cultures, even research, it’s worth doing. The ROI is high. But what if you take trips every chance you get, consuming every weekend, and just escaping your otherwise tedious life? What if your trips are the sober equivalent of binge drinking? For someone who travels this way, the ROI is low—and even costs you activity in church, callings, testimony growth, relationships, and much more. Your obsession with “getaways” even crosses the neutral line, and takes you into selfishness and spiritual debt. You are literally wasting your time.
We can look at all our activities through this lens. And often the news is invigorating—that boring task you’ve been slaving away at, now falls into perspective as a wonderful gift you’re giving your loved ones. A difficult project might greatly pay off in the future, though it’s back-breaking work at the moment. Many activities we thought were mindless or painful, now sparkle with potential benefit. Like someone who toughs it out through an exercise regimen for the health benefits down the road, you can see your commitments in a much more positive light.
This formula can also help you make decisions—you can compare the ROI of getting an education with the ROI of putting it off. Compare the ROI of serving an elderly sister in the ward, with the ROI of just putting your feet up on a Sunday afternoon. The ROI of accepting a calling is gigantic compared to the ROI of turning it down. Helping a child with homework, vs. playing basketball for a couple of hours with your buddies—slam dunk. Reaching out to befriend neighbors (vs being anti-social) could have an unlimited missionary ROI. It’s as if it’s okay to say, “What’s in it for me?” as long as you realize that service and spiritual growth are the goals. If your activity brings you closer to Christ, makes you a better disciple, or helps others do the same, then the ROI is positive. If it’s dodging a duty or straying into envy, selfishness or laziness… well, we’ve all been there, and that leads to a negative ROI.
Thinking this way can also help us to catch ourselves when we’re tempted to prove we’re right in an argument, or tell off that inconsiderate clerk. The ROI for losing one’s temper or belittling others is so far in the negative zone that the word, “bankruptcy” comes to mind. What do we really gain from acting childishly and having a snide attitude? What’s the ROI for posting a malicious comment online? What’s the ROI for being rude? For kids, what’s the ROI for following the crowd that uses bad language or dresses immodestly– acceptance by fools? Not much of a profit. Integrity and a sense of self-worth are far greater earnings.
Every time you apply this principle, and you discover the ROI won’t be worth it, look for the ROI that will. There will always be an alternative that pays huge dividends. Choices are one of the reasons we came to earth, and having another tool to help us make them wisely, well, that tool has a great ROI right there.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.