When Getting a Great Deal Might Not Be Worth Your Time

Life Spent Searching for Deals

Most consumers love a deal. However, some of us spend untold time searching for the best possible bargains.

If you’re one of these obsessive bargain-hunters, unless you derive some hedonistic pleasure in snatching deals, you may not have considered the possibility that you’re putting too low a value on your time.

Perhaps you could benefit from some perspective: the time you spend hunting for deals and trying to save that last penny may not be worth it. While you can quantify how much money you save by shopping around, you may not realize the opportunity costs of deal-hunting: it often comes at the cost of your time.

You may have a vague sense of the fact that “time is money,” but this might not be telling enough. You can find the approximate value of an hour of your time by dividing your annual income by 2,000 (or, more easily, by disregarding the last three digits of your annual income and dividing the result by 2.)

Obsessive Bargain-Hunters, Coupon Craziness Based on your “hour’s worth of money” or some fraction thereof, set a cost threshold, say $15, for the cost per hour you could spend bargain-hunting. Unless you’re saving as much as this cost threshold, deal-hunting is quite simply a waste of your time and money. So, don’t poke around the internet for a better deal or follow an auction on eBay if you’re saving less than $15 per hour spent deal-hunting. Similarly, don’t run to the Costco at the other end of town just to save a dime a gallon on 20 gallons of gas.

I’ve written previously that life is all about values and the priorities you assign to those values. Therefore, decide which choices in your life really matter and focus your time and energy there. Let numerous other opportunities pass you by.

Another part of leading a wise and meaningful life is not always seeking the best but instead making good-enough choices about the things that matter and not concerning yourself too much about the things that don’t.

Idea for Impact: Don’t spend more time on a task unless it really warrants this in terms of “time-is-money.” As the American Philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

Two-Minute Mentor #5: Present Perfect

Present Perfect

In “Awakening of the Heart” Vietnamese-French Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers a translation of the Bhaddekaratta Sutta:

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.

Looking deeply at life as it
is in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells
in stability and freedom.

We must be diligent today.
To wait until tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly.
How can we bargain with it?

The quality of your life depends on how you live at this moment. Within the span of a few minutes, you may experience the darkest part of your life or the brightest. In one instant, you may suffer the painful pinpricks of stress; in the next, you may revel in the fullness and mystery of life.

By meditating on these experiences, you will realize that your memories and daydreams are actually illusory. They are not happening now; they are simply mental images flickering in the mind. Most of the strands of your mind’s apprehensions are fleeting and ultimately unimportant.

The first step towards achieving harmony, joy, happiness, and well-being is to recognize that your upheavals are nothing but your own mind’s projections. You are in control and can prevent yourself from being overwhelmed by them.

Mindfulness comes from paying attention to what you are doing right now and letting go of regrets, worries, and fears. Far greater joy is in the living process than in the outcome. Be in the moment.

Idea for Impact: Your past has created the present; create your future by focusing on the present.

Two-Minute Mentor #4: Is a task worth doing worth doing poorly?

Don't have to give 110% or even 100% to everything you do

You’ve likely encountered career books or motivational speakers who urge you to work hard and give ‘it’ everything you can. While throwing yourself into work on every project and shooting for perfection is admirable, there are several downsides. Before long, you may find yourself forfeiting time with family, friends, or on hobbies as you feel increasingly pressed for time.

In actuality, you don’t have to give 110% or even 100% to everything you do.

Successful people are very selective about when they push themselves to the max—they do so only when the stakes are big enough and when it’s entirely justified.

Not everything you produce has to be perfect. Many of the results that matter can be less imperfect than allowable, but relevant enough.

Imperfection is often a satisfactory outcome. A 110% effort might not move you any closer to your goals than an 80% or a 90% effort.

Your time, energy, and other resources are in short supply. Constantly weigh your efforts against the expected benefits. Consider output-to-input efficiency. Be aware of the point of diminishing returns and don’t contribute more effort than is necessary. Make prudent compromises between reasonable effort and perfection.

Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Done

Don't let 'Perfect' be the enemy of 'Done'

Google’s Marissa Mayer on Perfection

In an interview with the Fast Company magazine, Marissa Mayer, Vice President of search products and user experience at Google, compares two product launch strategies:

Some [programmers] like to code for months or even years, and hope they will have built the perfect product. That’s castle building. Companies work this way, too. Apple is great at it. If you get it right and you’ve built just the perfect thing, you get this worldwide ‘Wow!’ The problem is, if you get it wrong, you get a thud, a thud in which you’ve spent, like, five years and 100 people on something the market doesn’t want.

Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President for search products and user experience Others prefer to have something working at the end of the day, something to refine and improve the next day. That’s what we do: our ‘launch early and often’ strategy. The hardest part about indoctrinating people into our culture is when engineers show me a prototype and I’m like, “Great, let’s go!” They’ll say, “Oh, no, it’s not ready.” … They want to castle-build and do all these other features and make it all perfect. I tell them … to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants–and make it great. The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants.

By releasing new products and features before they are completely refined, as ‘beta’ releases, Google and other technology companies can gain significant advantages over the competition. The products can be marketed earlier and initial users can identify problems with unfinished products and suggest new product features. A case in point: Google’s popular ‘Gmail’ or ‘Google Mail’ application has remained ‘beta’ since April 2004.

The approach of releasing ‘half-baked’ products is limited to certain industries and products. And, for sure, these ‘beta’-products are expected to include all the critical functional features expected of the product. Airlines will not fly a new aircraft that has not yet passed comprehensive tests and regulatory certification.

‘Perfect’ Is Often THE Enemy of ‘Done’

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.
George Fisher

Fighting perfection to get things done On our personal and professional initiatives, we tend to wait for the perfect time, the perfect team, or the perfect conditions. The end-result is that we never get started on the initiative. If we do start and then aspire for a perfect design, we may never get done.

Some of us, yours truly included, are chronic perfectionists. We tend to be excessively self-critical and demanding of ourselves. Our struggle for perfection habitually turns into an endless quest for making ‘better’ a ‘little better.’ Any state of perfection ceases to exist when we question the perfection–when we ask how perfect the perfection is.

Make ‘Perfect Enough’ the New Perfect

We need to accept the prospect of compromises to our goals and aspirations. We need to acknowledge that our expectations are often excessive and uncalled for. When we develop a ‘good enough’ or ‘perfect enough’ mindset, we realize that imperfection is, after all, a negotiable outcome. There will always be a chance to improve.

Credits: Marissa Mayer’s photo courtesy of Google