Local and Global Optimization

It cost me about $100 to go to my friend’s Christmas party. I had to buy a cheap flight from Vegas to San Francisco, and then a couple uber rides to and from the party.

On the surface, that doesn’t make all that much sense to do. But I made a deal with myself—any time one of my good friends in SF invites me to something in SF, I will go, even if it’s not quite worth it on paper.

My friends in SF are some of my closest friends. I love living in Las Vegas and have saved a ton of money in doing so, but if moving meant that I’d never spend time with my SF friends, the move wouldn’t be worth it for me.

Sometimes the only way to unlock something valuable is to overpay for something else. The only way I can live in Vegas and still maintain important friendships is by overpaying most of the times I hang out with them. So overall it’s a net benefit.

Another example is that I allow myself to purchase any travel gear I want, even if it’s too expensive. This creates some suboptimal short-term decisions, but in the long run the benefits of having an extremely light backpack and being able to help other people travel very lightly make a net benefit.

Once in a while, even when I have very pressing tasks, I’ll block off a day and just work on automating a bunch of small things. That’s locally a bad decision, but globally a good one. Because I’ve done that fifty or so times in my life, almost everything in my life happens without my intervention. That allows me to be interrupted less frequently on future urgent tasks.

There are probably other areas, but the examples I can think of are all in terms of scarce resource allocation. We often have a tendency (or, at least I do) to hyperoptimize our time and money, but often times true optimization only happens when you look at the big picture.

Whenever I try to convince someone to move to Vegas, part of my pitch is: “Take half of the money you save and spend it without concern on making up shortcomings of Vegas. Love the beach? Go to Hawaii twice a year. Don’t like the heat? Rent your place out for the summer and rent an apartment Sweden for the summer”.

There’s a tendency to agree to these deals with yourself, but then avoid following through because “the tickets are too expensive”. But that defeats the purpose. If you can’t follow through, you can’t make these deals with yourself in the future. If I wasn’t willing to fly to SF even when it’s a little foolish to do so, I would either pay much more to live in a city I like less or I’d save money living in Vegas but rarely get to see some of my favorite people.

I love optimizing, and you probably do too, since you read my blog. Make sure you’re optimizing the right things and that you’re willing to “unoptimize” a few things to create a greater global optimization. Do things that seem wrong in the short term to create things that are right in the long term.


Photo is from Rivea at Delano in Vegas. I stayed there for a night, even though I live in Vegas, to block out 28 hours in which to finish my book. Stupid to buy a hotel room in the city you live in, but smart if doing so guarantees your book gets finished!

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