Some optimization is good

But sometimes it's not so good

Hey there! Welcome to Part-Time Writing, the best newsletter for busy, intelligent professionals writing alongside their nine-to-five. I share stories and insights from my engineering career, writing, and life.

If that sounds up your alley, you can subscribe below (if not, that's cool too, maybe pass it along to someone else who might like it):

Also, feel free to check out my other posts or follow me on Twitter 😎.

I walked to my car last night after work, pulled out my phone, and typed my home address into Google Maps.

It’s a drive I’ve made hundreds of times. Maybe even a thousand. I know all of the possible routes better than the back of my hand. Yet every day, I GPS it because I hate traffic. Knowing where the traffic is heaviest helps to limit my commute time to the bare minimum.

That is optimization at its finest. It takes me twenty seconds to pull up the data and I’m on my way. Awesome.

But not all optimizations are that effective, especially given how much modern culture pushes for them. We reach for over-optimization more often than not. And who can blame us? Optimizations are very attractive, their allure quite difficult to resist.

At work, we’re applauded for them. At home, they buy us more precious free time.

The trick is in weighing the opportunity cost. Microsoft Excel is a good example here. At my first job after college, an old mentor taught me that if I could do something faster than I could automate it, then I should just do it. If the opposite is true, then I should spend the extra time automating it to make my life easier.

That simple advice has stuck with me. Many spreadsheets I use at work are one-offs for quick data analysis. These probably aren’t good candidates for automation. Others, however, are more robust tools that I use frequently. If I’m using Excel for repetitive tasks that I know I’m going to need in the future, you can bet I’ll try to automate.

It might sound silly, but I frequently run into people who automate the simplest, dumbest of things. A 5-minute task might turn into 15 just because they wanted to show-off something cool. For one task I guess it’s not a big deal. I mean, who doesn’t want the occasional cool points?

But it becomes a problem if you multiply that over hundreds of different tasks for the lifespan of an entire career. Then, that becomes a lot of wasted time.

Your time is precious. Don’t waste it doing stupid stuff if you don’t have to.

In a world that pushes for over-optimization, simpler is always better.