The Dark Side of Optimization


I live by optimization.  I often credit this skill for my general financial success.  I find ways to earn more by doing what other people do in less time.  There are many techniques: batching, multitasking, time optimization.   The examples are endless.

For instance, I visit patients in the nursing home.  My colleagues tend to do their visits mid morning, or late afternoon.  The problem is, it is often hard to find the patients.  They are rarely in their rooms.  They may be out at activities, physical therapy, or what have you.  These are also peak personnel hours.  Often one’s attempt to see a few patients is constantly interrupted by staff members trying to get your attention to answer questions, phone calls, and other disruptions.

I learned fairly quickly that if I rounded first thing in the morning during the nursing med pass, I was guaranteed to find each patient in their room.  Furthermore, being early, my interrupting phone calls and staff questions were minimal.  A trip to a nursing home that would usually take and hour and a half during peak hours, became a quick thirty minute affair.

Or meetings. In some of the directorship roles I fill, I am invited to, and must attend countless meetings.  Now, it is no secret that the majority of most meetings is fluff.  This is not an ideal way to spend your time.  I used to get annoyed and try to hurry people.

It never worked.  Now I bring in piles of papers and quietly work away while others chat about their weekends and  spouses.  Usually, I can multitask enough to be cordial and engaged, but not completely waste my time.  You can do two low concentration tasks at once and perform relatively reasonably.

But there is also a dark side.

I have started to take optimization too far.  You don’t always have to be running at peak performance.  Sometimes it’s okay, or even beneficial, to wander the nursing home in the middle of the day and chat.  Sometimes the relationships you have are stronger when your are not abstractedly filling out paperwork while gabbing about your weekend.

And let’s not forget urgency.  The dark side of optimization for me is urgency.  I have learned to rush around all day being super productive.  Each step has to be perfectly optimized in order to handle the next step in stride.  This makes complete sense if you are a computer, a machine.

For the human me, however, it is not always healthy to live this way.

I can’t control traffic patterns.  I can’t plan for the medical emergency that may befall one of my patients and consume my whole afternoon.  The need for flexibility bears down on my expertly constructed timeline with a great guffaw.

Financial independence has done nothing to ease this burden.  I decreased my workload to enjoy life more, but find myself rushing through even the smaller list of daily tasks.  By 10am, I have finished everything and can’t for the life of me figure why I was in so much of a rush.

Other projects take on such urgency.  When I decide what to blog about, I feel a compulsion to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard).  Gone are the days of  marinating on a subject and enjoying the freedom of hours upon hours of meandering contemplation.

Cooking, doing the dishes, cleaning the house, running errands.  The list goes on and on.

If financial independence gives me the super power of solving one personal problem, I hope it helps me with this.

The real urgencies in life are often swift, unexpected, and hard to plan for.

Everything else can be managed in its own leisurely time.

Doc G

A doctor who discovered the FI community but still struggling with RE.

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6 Responses

  1. What I find that can ease this optimization trap is nature. Get out in the woods and go running. Better yet, get the tent out and spend a night in the woods. When you boil life down to just water, food, and shelter, there’s not much to optimize. Maybe bring a book, but I prefer a pocket knife and a stick to make a spear or arrow.

    And definitely no wifi or cell phone.

  2. I think that another aspect of this (which is good) is that the other interests I have in life have pushed away unecesaary entertainment items like watching sports with teams playing I care nothing about or less TV shows. While maintaining optimization I actually enjoy my side gigs. They don’t feel like work to me.

    I think a balance can be found where optimization can improve your life without overcoming it.

    Thanks for the interesting read!

  3. I’m a multitasker but sometimes I think it makes me less efficient because my attention is divided. That’s when mistakes are made. I need to remind myself to slow down and be more mindful. Thanks for the reminder.

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