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No Eking

If you're a large company with a billion dollars of business, efficiency is important. If you can become 0.1% more efficient, that's worth a million dollars … and with a million here and a million there, pretty soon you're talking real money.

I'm not used to thinking about such small improvements in efficiency, so they often strike me as counterintuitive. For example, you can become 0.1% more efficient by not leaving a penny in the penny jar on a $10 purchase, or by working about 30 seconds longer after an eight-hour day. Such improvements are so small that I always think of them as eking out an advantage.

Really, of course, they're just economies of scale. The word “scale”, though, is key … the economies may be useful for large companies, which have scale, but they are not useful for me as an individual.

It's a little surprising, then, that I—and others, I think—do often act as if such economies were useful. If, for example, I have a thousand dollars I want to put in the bank, I might spend hours looking around for the absolute best rate, even though a 0.25% increase is only worth $2.50 per year. Even at minimum wage, that's only about 30 minutes of effort; I'd be better off spending the time working.

The reason I do things like that, I think, is that I have the idea, or meme, that it's good for things to be perfect. That's true, but it still needs to be balanced by a counter-meme; the one I use is the rule of thumb “no eking”.

Actually, I don't even like eking. When I encounter a problem, I like to overwhelm it, crush it like a bug. That was true even in high school, where I often liked to solve math problems by brute force instead of striving for an easy and elegant solution.

The problem with my little rule of thumb is that I'm not always aware of when I'm eking. In case you run into the same problem, here are some things I think are examples.

Here's a slightly different angle on the whole thing. If, in a given situation, eking is optional, you shouldn't bother with it, and if it's necessary, well, that counts as too much effort, and you should be deflected into a different approach.


  See Also

  Voluntary Simplicity

@ October (2001)