Rational Redundancy

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Through a Hacker News link to a post on work-life balance, I have had the good fortune to become acquainted with the thoughts of Matt Might on the subject of productivity (Search that word on the page until it comes up as a heading.). I haven't had a chance to read much of what he has written, but what I have seen so far has impressed me. Might starts off his postings at a general level and then offers more specific advice, often supplemented by further insights and advice from his readers.

As an example of why I'll spend some more time at Might's blog, consider his thoughts on the subject of avoiding the kinds of artificial scarcities that can waste time and hamper productivity. Might starts off with the principle:

[W]e reflexively view duplication as inefficient.

In reality, there are situations where duplication can be rational:

An artificial scarcity arises when the cost of duplication
is less than the lifetime opportunity cost of traveling with or to a good.
Might soon follows with specific examples. It is worth noting that his thinking is, properly, guided by the principle as applied to a particular person's context:
To determine whether or not you have an artificial scarcity, you first need to consider the cost of travel to or with that good; you then need to consider the cost of duplicating that good near points of use.

For example, what is the cost of packing up a laptop power adapter and carrying it with you versus the cost of having an extra adapter at the office?

[Because opportunity costs are involved, artificial scarcities are relative: what is artificially scarce to my wife may not be artificially scarce to me, and vice versa.]


When you only have one copy of any item, you either have to remember to carry it with you, or pay a steeper transit cost to reach the item.

For example, the cost of traveling with the adapter combines the mental burden of remembering to take the adapter with the opportunity cost of time spent packing and unpacking and the space lost in your bag.

Suppose you spend a minute each day packing and unpacking the adapter. Within a year, you've lost about six hours to just packing and unpacking your adapter.
At the risk of sounding like I am patting myself on the back, I reached similar conclusions to Might regarding laptop power adapters, as well as staging certain things in multiple locations to save time. That said, I still had not explicitly thought of these in the more general terms of avoiding artificial scarcity. Accordingly, I had not come up with some of the applications of the principle he has. For example, his idea of keeping a small toolbox of frequently-used items, like scissors and screwdrivers on each level of a multistory home is somethng I'll implement soon. Might has, at the very least, helped me reach his level of generalization (thereby increasing the number of opportunities for me to save time) sooner than I might have otherwise.

Do yourself a favor and take a look at his ideas on productivity as soon as you can.

-- CAV


Jim May said...

I already figured out something analogous to his idea. One day I thought I'd lost a screwdriver, so I bought another one. The first one then turned up, so I had two. As I'm bad for misplacing things, having the extra one around actually ended up nearly eliminating time lost to walking around wondering where the cussed thing was.

Captcha: "hrequel". A second book in a series written by a Kzinti author.

Gus Van Horn said...

Like me, but had you thought to apply the lesson as broadly as Might did? That's what impressed me here. In any case, you're miles ahead of what I have repeatedly observed when helping friends and relatives move: ending up with, say, six screwdrivers, all of which are buried in different places, wasting both money and time.

Nice captcha. Another regular commenter here (and an old friend of mine) derived his nickname, "Snedcat", from one of his.

Gus Van Horn said...

[Snedcat, who is traveling abroad and can't leave comments from his mobile device, asked me via email to post the following.]

"Yo, Gus, yep. I started out as Mike, but quite liked Snedcat. For a while I also commented at other sites under the old monicker, so for comments likely to be more widely bruited about, I kept using that name here and reserved Snedcat for more specifically Gus-ian topics. This had the disadvantage though that Mike is about as distinctive as Nguyen is in Hanoi, but I figure my voice is so distinctive no one could have been confused. But in any case, since I now have a very busy life, this is the only blog I post at any more and one of only three I follow daily, so a few months ago Mike retired and Snedcat is here to stay."

Thanks for the high compliment, Snedcat, as well as for including a visit with us in your vacation.