Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Time Value of Optimizing Everything You Do

I loved the below comic from the always-awesome xkcd - it shows you how much time you save (across five years) by optimizing repetitive tasks based on how frequently you perform the task and how much time your optimization saves.

Check it out (source link):


This chart shows why I actually work very hard to optimize the small things I do often - because small tweaks to behavior can add up to huge time savings over time. Some examples from my personal life:
  • I only commute to the office twice a week, and my commute averages 15 minutes, compared to the average DC area commute of 35 minutes five times a week. Across 5 years, this means that I spend about 125 hours (or 15.6 workdays) uselessly sitting in my car, while the average DCer spends a whopping 730 hours (or 91.1 workdays) uselessly sitting in his/her car. So, across 5 years, that's the equivalent of more than two months of vacation that I get that the average DCer doesn't get, just because I've time optimized my commute (including where I live).
  • I pay every possible bill that I can online and automatically (in fact, I underutilize a couple of my credit cards only because they don't offer an automatic pay option - I'm looking at you, Citibank and Capital One). But, I'll say that between rent, different utilities, and credit cards, I have about a dozen bills that are paid automatically every month, with absolutely no action required from me. Even if I assume that I am very fast and can pay a bill online in 5 minutes, automatic bill paying saves me 60 hours of my life over the course of 5 years, according to the above chart.
  • I don't shave every day - I only shave out of social or professional necessity, which means that I end up shaving only 1.5 times per week instead of 7. Shaving takes about 10 minutes, so over 5 years, I'm saving myself about 235 hours by shaving less often.
  • I use Dashlane (which I highly recommend, by the way) to log into websites automatically, instead of having to type in passwords all the time. I'm a pretty speedy computer user, so I'd say it probably only takes me 10 seconds to log into a website - but I log into websites many, many times per day (let's say 50, since it's in the chart) - meaning that Dashlane alone saves me 10 days of my life over the course of five years.
  • After much complaining, my work finally bought me an SSD for my work computer (I have long had an SSD for my home computer). A conservative estimate is that the SSD cut 3 minutes off my work computer's boot time, and I'm sure it saves me at least 27 minutes per day of waiting on my computer to run programs or analyses. So, having an SSD means that my employer is now getting 5 additional WEEKS of productivity from me over 5 years, just because I'm spending less time waiting on my computer.
A more depressing exercise is to use the chart in the opposite way - as a way to measure how much of your life is destroyed by useless tasks / problems beyond your control. For example, I'm sure I spend at least one hour a week in a pointless meeting - either a meeting with little intrinsic value, or that I shouldn't have been invited to in the first place, or that is a stupid mandatory training, etc. - those meetings add up to 10 days of wasted time over 5 years. I'm sure some of you spend far more time than that in pointless meetings every week.

Life as a new parent is rough (as is probably evident by the blogging slowdown) - but as the xkcd chart shows, you can generate a lot of time savings by optimizing little repetitive tasks that you do every day, week, or month, because those little time savings add up quickly. - you don't just have to find time savings by cutting whole activities from your schedule.

Does anyone else out there have some particularly interesting / awesome life optimizations to share?