Making Up for Lost Time

Wasted time can never be reclaimed, because you never have the opportunity to repeat the past. Therefore, you must make sure you are working toward your goals and making the best use of each and every day.

If you find you have wasted months or years of your life as I have, nothing good can come from dwelling on it, as this only wastes more time. The only thing we can do is learn from the past and not repeat the same mistakes in the future.

Average people waste most of their lives. Watching T.V., surfing the Internet, playing video games, reading fiction, pointless conversations, Facebook, day-dreaming, over-sleeping—eliminate this from the average person’s life and you will see their productivity triple. People who seem like super-humans are actually ordinary—they just don’t waste their time on garbage which takes up 12 hours of an ordinary person’s day. Even replacing television with doing nothing is a step up. Just call it meditation and you are instantly a monk or philosopher.

Anything important can be measured—save a few intangibles like intelligence. Schools and colleges measure your academic worth through exams and graded assignments. Employers measure your worth as a slave with performance reviews. And you can measure your productivity by recording how you use every hour of your time. Though this is something I’ve never done, I imagine it would greatly boost my creative output. There’s no point doing it now—I already know I’m nowhere near optimal efficiency—but in a few months small optimizations will become important.

Even recreation is essential. It should not be the result of procrastination, but a bona fide item on your schedule. “Multi-tasking” produces crap, not results. When you are working, whether your job is writing, painting, building, or cooking, don’t do anything else. Don’t work through lunch, ignore incoming emails and phone calls, don’t read pointless blogs, and don’t look outside. When you’re eating lunch, don’t do any of these other things, and the same for talking on the phone or taking a break. If you give your undivided attention to each item on your schedule, you will see massive performance gains.

Cutting off relationships with people who drag down your productivity is a positive step. Block that friend or coworker who forwards you 50 emails a day. Clear out your friends list on Facebook and Twitter: only keep people you know in real life and have seen recently. Banish energy vampires from your life. Surround yourself with positive people or no one at all.

Above all, never lose faith in yourself. You can do great things, even if you only have months left to live.

Practicality

Your success is tied directly to your merit. If your business is profitable with many customers, you’ve done good work. If your business hasn’t gotten off the ground and you’ve been working hard for a year, you’ve done bad work. If you are rich, you deserve wealth because you’ve provided services of value to your community. If you are poor, you got into your situation by providing no value, or never charging for it. If you provided value for free, it wasn’t useful. If it was, you would have received unsolicited donations.

If you are famous, you are an attractive, interesting person. If you are unknown, you are neither. If you’re a good author, you can get a publisher to pick up your book. If you are a bad author, you cannot. If you are good at playing the piano, you should be able to go into any Target or Wal-Mart and attract a crowd by bashing the keys. If you do not attract a crowd, you are a bad piano player. Or you aren’t bashing hard enough. :grin:

These paragraphs may seem laughable, but they are practical. They are true 90% of the time, but half the people who read them will not like them. Most of us have created a different model of reality—one based on chance, privilege, and divine right. All of these advantages belong to our competitors, and all of these reality models are used to explain our lack of success. They have no other purpose other than to vindicate us from the vagaries of reality!

Is this practical? Hell no!

90% of the time, success is tied directly to merit. 10% of the time, there are hidden or special factors to consider. The exceptions usually involve rich or famous people promoting unworthy people or products. However, if they do this too often, they become untrustworthy. They will fall from grace themselves. While most people might say that success is tied to merit only half the time, in truth the two are almost always correlated. People with government contracts still have to put out good products.

When I started writing about personal development over a year ago, I wanted to help people change their lives for the better while becoming a better person myself. I wanted to make an impact on the world. I wanted to give new perspectives on time and money, limiting vs. empowering beliefs, working for yourself vs. working for others, negativity, intrinsic value, happiness, and other topics. I wrote articles about many things—they’re each several pages long and still seem fairly good to me.

I haven’t made an impact. Most of my articles are skimmed by few people and read by fewer. I make less impact with 60 posts than a popular blogger makes with one. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve received a piece of critical feedback. No one ever says anything about whatever I write, even when I give out print copies, which I make a habit of. If I get a meaningful comment, it is the rule, not the exception. There is a grandiosity gap. The goals I set do not line up with the practicality of reality. Pretending that I’m changing the world is laughable. I haven’t even started. I haven’t made a quantum leap. I’ve worked hard, but I’m still on the launchpad.

How many goals have you set yet never reached? How many of them have stayed on the launchpad? How many projects do you work on each day that are still going nowhere? Are you being practical?

If something doesn’t work, ditch it. Don’t be trapped by dogma.

The posts I’ve written aren’t working. They appeal to the mind but they do not appeal to the heart. They don’t touch anyone. I may be writing in the wrong field—I have no life experience and am hardly empathetic. However, I am sticking with this field because I want more of both (life experience and empathy). Examining my circumstances practically, I see that I need to write shorter articles tackling lower level, practical concepts, rather than grazing high level, theoretical concepts which I hardly understand myself. I must adapt or die.

In the past two months, I’ve done a lot of programming on Tweet This, a WordPress plugin that integrates your blog with Twitter. Before I started, I considered working on Bookley, an open source library management system I designed over the spring. I never wrote code to let you search the catalog. It has no support for different library branches. You can’t set closed days and have due dates automatically forward. There are no alert emails for hold requests. It could use a lot of work.

A couple years ago, I would’ve considered Bookley my main project and Tweet This my side project. I’d add a few features to Tweet This while putting the bulk of my effort into a white elephant. Today, I chose Tweet This. It is purely a matter of practicality. No one uses Bookley and it is likely that no one ever will. Hundreds of people use Tweet This every day. If well-designed, Bookley is the type of software that would win an award. Tweet This will get no academic recognition, but it will always be used widely. It is the practical choice, and that’s where my effort belongs.

In 1942, the comedy team Abbott & Costello were at their peak, and their movies brought in $10 million at the theaters, even as America was going into a war. Movies like Hold That Ghost, Pardon My Sarong, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein would bring in more money than first-rate productions, even though Abbott & Costello were B-actors. A practical studio would have put all their money behind the team. The props and sets would be stunning and realistic instead of laughable. The movies would be in technicolor rather than black and white. Instead, Universal Pictures would paint the studio every time an Abbott & Costello picture was released. They would take the profits from the team’s movies and use them to fund sacred cows like Hamlet and Phantom of the Opera. Movies designed to win awards rather than sell tickets. Movies that interested no one received lavish funding and the best color film stock.

The same thing happened to The Three Stooges. Their short films are more popular than the features of their time, yet they were given second-class treatment for most of their careers. Is this practical? Of course not. More money would not have made them any funnier—in fact, it may have detracted from their appeal. However, we cannot consider this because it was not something the studios considered. A&C and the Stooges were simply considered second-rate actors. They did receive the proper recognition for their work, but from the public, not the studio executives. If the executives were any good, they would’ve let the Stooges lead the show rather than putting them on the back burner.

The practical choice is always present and often obvious. We only miss it when we are trapped by dogma. We overlook it when our model of reality is inaccurate. We choose hard solutions when practical solutions are readily available. We try to shock and awe when it would be better to get the job done quietly.

The practical choice is often the most obvious and readily available solution. You don’t have to look hard for it. Don’t make life too complicated.

The practical choice can change based on your situation. When you’re looking for a jar of peanut butter at the grocery store, the practical choice may be the store brand if you are poor, or a brand name if you are rich. Consider your needs and priorities. But don’t spend fifteen minutes selecting a jar of peanut butter. Be practical.

Sytems

When you have a large amount of data to sift through, it is often good to create an ironclad framework to manage the data. This framework will include a method of inputting new data, modules for importing and cataloging old data, and an interface to wrap around the whole thing. Collectively, it is called a system.

The problem with systems it they are often created to manage a dataset that is expanding rapidly now, but will taper off quite soon. The designer of the system assumes that the expansion will continue at its present rate, so he creates the system to manage a large amount of data and he designs a thorough catalog to expedite searching. The problem is that with more items, more cataloging effort must be spent on each item so that searches can drill down the necessary data over an ever-expanding dataset. This means the cost of maintaining the system increases exponentially. If the expansion rate drops rapidly, this can be the nail in the system’s coffin, as fourteen layers of metadata provides diminishing returns when you are adding three records a day.

When you picture a “system,” think of a photography catalog. You add more photos as you take them with your camera, importing them using a memory card reader. You add tags and keywords. You sort the images into folders or (preferably) virtual folders. There is a search mechanism which lets you search by folder, date, and keyword. You can search thorough a mass of metadata that is generated by your camera automatically upon shooting each photo. If any one of these components is flawed, the whole system crumbles. Being able to find a photo in two seconds is worthless if you have to spend five minutes cataloging each one. Having a stable catalog of photos sorted with tags and keywords is no good if you have to make a separate physical copy of each file for each keyword. You need a complete and well-rounded system that is versatile and low-upkeep.

Unfortunately, you are just as likely to under-estimate the expansion of your system. What if you’re using Picasa to manage 10,000 images, but then you get a job as a professional photographer and start adding 1000 images a day? You may soon find that Picasa slows to a crawl when you get to 50,000 images. All of the sudden, your system is no better than a pile of dirt, and you’re screwed because you can’t export your database. You have to use clunky ICTP embedding to get the data out, you have to find a new system, you have to adapt to its quirks, you must compensate for its short-comings and differences compared to your current system, and you must do this all under the pressure of impending deadlines. Still think systems aren’t important? How long can you get by haphazardly managing your photographs? Amateurs can do it. Professionals, no.

The biggest problem with systems is overhead. If you keep a to-do list, how much time do you spend doing the tasks on the list? How much time do you spend working on the list, including thinking of new tasks, crossing out old ones, setting deadlines, and revising the list? The time spent on maintaining the list is the system’s overhead. If your overhead is more than 10%, you may consider scrapping or greatly simplifying the list. If procrastination is not a big problem for you, try doing things in the order you please. Instead of storing the list on paper, store it in your head.

Other systems may have overhead greatly in excess of 100%. A public library’s catalog may take more time to maintain than the shelving, sorting, and transactions for all the items in the library. New records have to be cataloged to rigid standards by trained librarians with Master’s degrees, who may be paid upwards of $70 per hour. Items must be checked in and checked out and marked as damaged or missing when problems arise. While it would be much easier to have no catalog and just place the books on the shelf by the author’s last name or the Dewey decimal system, the catalog is essential for searching records and tracking items.

A to-do list, however, should have a much smaller overhead, as it is a simple system to a simple job. Always consider the value of the system you are putting in place. If its overhead exceeds its value, scrap it.

I used to keep my mail-in rebates list on a sheet of paper on the fridge. I’d write the date I mailed the rebate, the product and amount, and the expected date. When the rebate came I’d cross it off the list. At the height of my rebate frenzy (back when EVERYTHING was free after rebate), I had to expand the list from one page to eight pages (8.5″ by 11″), covering the whole front of the fridge. This was unwieldy, so I found a program to put the rebates on my computer and I started managing them there. I got rid of the paper list and keyed everything in. It was a disaster. The whole system didn’t work; I couldn’t search by expected date or amount easily; I had to use klutzy titles that relied on alphanumeric sort. I ended up losing $100 in rebates because I was so bad at keeping track of them. Admittedly, I chose the wrong program (I think it was called Rebate Reminder), but the problem was I chose a system with too much overhead that did not provide any benefits over the previous system. In many ways it was even worse; it gave me a fragmented view of the money I had on the line, while the paper lists let me see everything at once. Instead of being in control, I had no control at all. Systems can often be more trouble than their worth. Remember KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

Perfectionists fall prey to complex and weighty systems. When I used to pirate DVDs from the library, I’d have to compress the video from 8.5GB to 4.7GB to fit on a single-layer DVD (most commercial DVDs are double-layer, but the blanks are prohibitively expensive). For some reason I wanted to save the full-quality video for future use, so I’d make a second copy of the original files onto two discs. I have a stack of 100 of these in my closet that I’ll never use. It was a horribly idiotic thing to do. The copies, compressed to 60% of the original size, do not look noticeably worse than the originals on my 19-inch television set. I’ll never have a reason to buy dual-layer blanks and remake the discs; I’m not interested in watching any of the movies again anyway. In fact, if I had to do it over again, I might have just borrowed the movies I wanted to watch, watched them, and returned them. My Dad likes to watch the same movies again and again, but I find, as with books, that one viewing is enough. However, I’ll listen to the same songs over and over again on my MP3 player, especially if I’m programming or writing.

Whenever you create a system, ask yourself: is this useful? Will the data I’m organizing be useful to me in six months? Three? Is it that much slower to have no system and let the chips fall where they may?

I used to keep a meticulously organized accordion folder of all the receipts, rebate forms, school papers, coupons, and paychecks that I’d received for the last six months. Then I’d move to a new accordion folder, keeping the old receipts indefinitely. Now I put everything in a big pile on a shelf in my bedroom. Every few months, I throw out all the old receipts and coupons. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve had to hunt down a receipt in that pile. With the accordion folder, it took two minutes. With the big pile, it takes ten. It’s still cheaper than sorting everything, because only rarely do I need anything in the pile. The overhead of a system is simply not worth it.

I used to take thousands of photos a month. Most of them were useless. I’d document the position of all the family’s furniture and can goods each month. I thought that would be interesting later. Turns out it isn’t. I had a huge complex catalog of these photos in iMatch which I used to spend a lot of time on. I haven’t accessed the catalog in nearly a year. Now, I take just a few hundred pictures a month—good pictures, and I use a program called Downloader Pro to sort them into folders by date automatically. Since there are so few photos, I don’t need to catalog anything. I just look through each folder by date with FastStone Image Viewer (a wonderful program). Sometimes, yes, it’s hard to find a photo. Without the overhead of a system, however, I spend more time behind the camera and less time behind the computer.

This blog is a system. It took a long time to set up. The overhead was 100% in the beginning, and as high as 50% till recently. Now, I’m adding practically nothing to the system (WordPress). No new plugins, no theme changes, no design changes. The system has matured and the overhead is now about 10%. I could still be fiddling with all the details, but I’d much rather be writing than working on the system.

Use systems. Don’t let them use you.

Time and Money

“Time is money,” the saying goes. You’re paid for your time with money, and you pay for the time of others with the money you’ve earned. Projects that don’t earn money aren’t worth your time, and projects that take too much time must make extra money.

While money can be replaced, time cannot. However money can be just as valuable as time, assuming it takes time to earn money. The alternate view is that money should not be earned proportional to time, but rather to value, such as through royalties, salaries rather than hourly pay, or fixed-input services like entertainment or computer software, where the initial cost is high but reproducing the item is cheap. This way, you continue earning money without further input of time. The ads on this site are an example of this: while I blogged nothing last month, I made $155 from advertising and affiliate commissions.

Most people spend too much time earning money or earn too little money for their time. The world is divided between work-o-holics, philanthropists, and lazies: capitalists and socialists. When I volunteered at the local public library, I learned that volunteering does not present a good money to time ratio. In fact, it’s a net loss, considering the costs of gas, food, and clothes.

While the IRS taxes “income,” there is really no profit to be had in income. While you may earn money at your job, there are countless expenses: your housing, your food, your car, your insurance, your gas, your clothes, your water, your electricity. It could be said that you have no income, because you’re losing as much as you’re gaining: you trade $50 worth of time and effort for $50 in cash. A large quantity of energy can be converted to a small quantity of matter, just as a large quantity of time can be converted to a small quantity of money. The conversion yields no surplus in and of itself. Most people, in fact, have very low net worth, despite $50,000-a-year salaries. Most of America’s cars and houses are heavily mortgaged, and much of that income is merely wasted on interest.

Ruthless pursuit of money will make your life miserable, but ruthless conservation of time will send you to the poor house. Being an extreme spendthrift will cost you time, potential, and efficiency, but lavish spending squanders your money and thus your time.

Conserving money

• Skip bottled water, $1.49 Cokes, candy bars, paper napkins, and other luxuries. Drink tap water. You’ll save and help the environment anyway.
• Don’t buy health insurance, car insurance (the cheapest if it’s required), home insurance. It’s usually cheaper to skip insurance, even if you have a few occasional emergencies.
• Buy discount postage stamps on eBay; I bought 1000 42-cent stamps for $345 recently, or 18% off face value.
• Reuse envelopes and boxes for shipping; you’d probably have a lot of them if you’d save them.
• Instead of renting or leasing a car, save up money and buy a used car, then keep it for ten or fifteen years.
• Don’t do “cash advances” or loans—have money ready in advance for emergencies. Interest rates on small loans can be as high as 20%.
• Shop at the supermarket, not the gas station.
• Don’t heat or cool your house. Wear big winter coats in the winter and go naked in the summer.
• Take advantage of coupons, sales, and mail-in rebates instead of paying full price for everything.
• Don’t buy books or movies. Borrow them from the library or pirate them instead.
• If you have a job contracting, save money by not reporting your income to the government. My Dad’s been “unemployed” for twenty years.
• Learn how to do basic pluming, electrical wiring, and home repairs so you don’t have to call someone out.
• Skip cable TV, satellite radio, and high-speed broadband Internet. Be bored if you have to. We have 768 Kbps down / 128 Kbps up DSL for $20 a month, and it’s tolerable.
• Buy a $10 Tracfone every two months for a cell phone. You’ll only get two months of service and twenty minutes with each one, and you’ll constantly lose your phone number, but it’s the cheapest way to have a cell phone for emergencies. Throw out the old cell phone or save it to resell.

Conserving time

• Buy good supplies, like pens, pencils, staplers, letter openers, and paper. They’ll work better and save you time in the long run.
• Learn to type faster.
• Set your computer to hibernate when you push the power button. It’s much faster than a full shut-down, and it saves your windows. I only do a traditional shut-down once or twice a month.
• Use a dual-head video card, so you can have two monitors and keep windows open on both. I have three monitors.
• Batch process email once or twice a day. It’ll save you a lot of time over checking email constantly.
• Buy a laser printer with duplexing. It’s much faster than an inkjet and you can print on both sides of the page quickly.
• Sleep polyphasically, taking small naps around the clock, to save six hours a day in sleep time.
• Throw out receipts and packaging immediately. Most are unnecessary, anyway. Even if you have to send an expensive electronic item back to the manufacturer for repair, they usually don’t want the packaging anyway.
• Get a filing system for your papers, and only file what you can’t throw out.
• Have a place for everything. Use the drawers in your kitchen. You’ll spend less time hunting for stuff.
• Disconnect your phone. Make yourself less available.
• If you’re not doing heavy work, take a shower every two days instead of daily. It’ll save water and time, and it’s better for your skin.
• Brush your teeth after eating breakfast, so they’ll be white past your first meal.
• Get a folder for coupons, forms, and papers. It’ll keep you organized and you can take it into stores without being suspected of shoplifting, unlike with zipped pouches. It’s the man’s version of a purse.
• Have an area in your house for your keys, wallet, belt, cell phone, pen, flash drive, shoes, and folder, so you can get ready to leave the house quickly.
• Avoid distractions by listening to music while working.
• Cook a week’s worth of meals at once, then refrigerate them.
• Buy a new, faster computer if yours is more than a few years old. Especially if you do photo or video processing, it will save you lots of time.
• Buy good batteries, so you don’t have to replace batteries so often.
• Stay accountable by keeping a journal of where your time goes.
• Instead of taking a lunch break, work through lunch at your desk, taking bites to eat between reading, typing, and mouse gestures.

Many people suggest hiring a $9-an-hour secretary to do mundane tasks such as paper shuffling and email. This may look good on paper, but it’s less effective than you think because you have to train someone new, and no one can do your job as well as you. Even if you make $20 an hour, that doesn’t mean you should out-source everything you can for less than that. You could be better off just doing the work yourself.

Got some other advice to save time and money? Post it in the comments.

Selling Stuff

I’ve spent ten hours today and yesterday listing stuff on eBay and Craigslist to sell. Mostly new stuff, much of which I acquired many months ago from rebate grifting, and more recently, small items I purchased cheaply through an ink cartridge recycling scheme, with intent to sell. Now, that intent is a reality.

A few details: I bought 6000 empty ink cartridges at an auction for $1080 two months ago, and me and my Dad have turned in 3700 of them at Office Depot for $3 store credit coupons. We have a box of them. You can only turn in 25 per day and use 3 per day, so each time we go there we buy $9.02 worth of stuff and get $9 off. Since the cartridges were only 17 cents each, it’s a safe, though tedious way to acquire small office supplies cheaply.

Recently, that program has changed so you can only turn in 5 per day and you get the store credit back all at once on a gift card at the end of the quarter. That won’t be till February, but we continue to turn in the 1700 remaining cartridges. I’ll be able to buy a computer or a new camera eventually.

With all these $3 coupons which I can only use 3 of per day, I’ve bought markers, new ink cartridges, and tech items on clearance under $9. I’ve been reselling them sporadically, but I just got the biggest batch listed.

What I found out is that it takes a lot of effort to create 30 auctions. I used to list things on eBay occasionally, but I’d get bogged down in details. I’d feel compelled to include every detail from the packaging in each description. I’d spend 30 minutes taking a product shot with the correct light. Editing it would take longer. I’d agonize over shipping costs and debate international shipping.

All this is not any good for getting anything done. I was tempted to spend lots of time on each auction this time around, because it feels comfortable to accomplish nothing when you’ve conditioned yourself to do so. But instead, I took the photos quickly, used the grass in my yard as a background, did quick contrast adjustments in Photoshop with keyboard shortcuts, wrote shorter descriptions without deep thought, and didn’t even bother with anyone but U.S. users. I have no qualms with padding my shipping charges. Everyone expects it, and with eBay taking 45 cents + 11.15% of each sale (eBay fees + PayPal), they can live with it too.

I got all these items listed:

130269823059 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 17:09:34 PST $0.99 TWO New HP 41 Inkjet Color Print Cartridges Ink No Bids Yet
130269825000 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 17:22:07 PST $1.04 12 Mini DV miniDV Digital Video Tapes 60 min Maxell NEW jmab55
130269827607 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 17:40:09 PST $0.99 HP 14 Black Inkjet Print Cartridge Genuine NEW C5011D No Bids Yet
130269828889 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 17:49:06 PST $0.99 HP 41 Color Inkjet Print Cartridge Genuine NEW 51641A No Bids Yet
130269829947 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 17:57:08 PST $2.25 THREE Kodak No. 10 COLOR Ink Cartridges Genuine NEW icon68
130269832130 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 18:10:54 PST $0.99 9 Fire Extinguisher signs, 2″ x 8″, NEW, Adhesive, Red No Bids Yet
130269833636 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 18:21:26 PST $0.99 Speck ToughSkin Black Sport Case : iPod Nano 2nd Gen 2G No Bids Yet
130269834796 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 18:28:50 PST $0.99 Epson T036120 T0361 Black Ink Cartridge NEW Genuine No Bids Yet
130269836184 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 18:37:29 PST $0.99 Epson T037020 T0370 Color Ink Cartridge NEW Genuine No Bids Yet
130269838624 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 18:55:53 PST $0.99 4 Brother Ink Cartridges: LC31C LC31M LC31Y LC31BK NEW No Bids Yet
130269840078 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 19:04:45 PST $0.99 5 Color Maxell Mini DVD-R 8cm 1.4GB Camcorder Discs NEW No Bids Yet
130269840974 Nov-17-08 Nov-24-08 19:10:36 PST $0.99 Sterling 56K V.92 PCI Fax Modem Dialup NEW Vista No Bids Yet
130269909687 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 05:44:38 PST $0.99 Uniden TCX 905 5.8GHz Accessory Handset and Charger No Bids Yet
130269913165 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 06:08:34 PST $0.99 Rosewill 3 Port Firewire IEEE 1394a PCMCIA Card Laptop No Bids Yet
130269915385 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 06:21:43 PST $0.99 Rosewill RCX-Z775-SL Intel Heatsink & 92mm Fan NEW No Bids Yet
130269916624 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 06:29:10 PST $0.99 Brother LC31C Cyan Inkjet Print Cartridge Ink NEW No Bids Yet
130269917125 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 06:32:27 PST $0.99 Brother LC31M Magenta Inkjet Print Cartridge Ink NEW No Bids Yet
130269956469 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 09:51:12 PST $0.99 12 Foray Chisel Tip Dry Erase Markers + Erasers Colors No Bids Yet
130269959625 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 10:05:36 PST $0.99 2 Maxell Digial8 / Hi8 Blank Camcorder Tapes 120 min No Bids Yet
130270022541 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 14:25:47 PST $0.99 Staples Slimline 4 AA Battery Pencil Sharpener NEW 0 Dutch bids
130270026644 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 14:58:17 PST $0.99 20 Office Depot DVD+R DL Dual/Double Layer Discs +Cases No Bids Yet
130270029195 Nov-18-08 Nov-25-08 15:15:51 PST $0.99 Eagle 3.5-inch PATA / USB External Hard Drive Enclosure No Bids Yet

These low-margin items aren’t profitable to sell unless you’re getting them for free; I don’t expect to clear more than $200 from all these items. Postage and eBay’s fees swallow up way too much. But that doesn’t mean you should hang on to this stuff.

When I was creating these auctions, I did things differently. Before, I’d preview each auction meticulously and check for errors in spelling, categorization, product details, shipping charges. Usually I’d find none, and it would eat up a lot of time. This time around, I listed the items immediately, reviewing them after. It went much more quickly, and the few little mistakes I caught, I fixed with eBay’s revision feature. Psychologically, that helped me work much more efficiently.

Most people have way too many things, even nice new possessions like markers or paper or computer supplies. It’s easy to hoard free-after-rebate items, gifts, and things acquired cheaply, but they end up gobbling up space without providing much return. The question to ask is not “could this item be useful?,” but rather, “might this item not be useful?” If the answer to the latter is yes, get rid of the item. Sell it at a loss if you have to.

This was my first time listing on Craigslist.org. The site feels something right out of 1995. The design is clunky and simple, warnings are in bold red capital letters, all pictures I upload are compressed as tiny artifact-riddled JPEGs. But there are people, lots of people in the Daytona Beach area looking for things to sell or selling things themselves there. Community counts more than presentation. The things I listed there are generally too heavy to ship. I expect to get bites pretty quickly, as I’m getting rid of this stuff way below retail:

Microsoft Comfort Curve USB Computer Keyboard 2000 NEW – $10 (Ormond Beach)
Samsung ML-2510 Black & White Laser Printer – $35 (Ormond Beach)
HP LaserJet 1018 Black & White Laser Printer – $30 (Ormond Beach)
Brand new Staples 8.5×11 Paper Shredder – $10 (Ormond Beach)
Case of Legal Size Copy Paper (8.5 x 14 in.) 5000 sheets New – $30 (Ormond Beach)
16 Port Fast Ethernet Switch 100Mbps NEW – $15 (Ormond Beach)
Ultra ATX Mid-Tower PC Computer Case Steel NEW – $20 (Ormond Beach)
Epson Stylus Photo R260 Ultra Hi-Definition Photo Printer – $20 (Ormond Beach)

I got all the printers free after rebate or nearly so, then used up the toner or ink and put them out in the shed. They take up a ton of space, but I started getting attached to them. “These are obviously worth a lot,” I’d tell myself. “I shouldn’t get rid of them—what if they become useful someday?” The fact is, if you have something that’s going to be useful to you, you won’t even have to ask yourself if it’ll be useful—you’ll just know it. Whatever you need you can just buy later anyway, and with the prices of technological gadgets constantly falling, it will be cheaper anyway. This also means that if you wait to sell stuff, you’ll lose more money.

From holding these printers and computer towers for as much as a year, they’ve already lost value. It doesn’t bother me. It’s much better to take action now than cling to the past. I could easily hang on to this stuff for many more years never doing anything. I could console myself by saying the items are too valuable to part with. However, that accomplishes nothing and serves no one. The space I’m reclaiming can be used for new stuff like photography gadgets or chairs or tables, or I can just leave it empty so the house doesn’t feel so cluttered. Printers that you never use take up a lot of space. They take up a lot more space than useful printers, even if their dimensions are physically the same.

I bought two cases of legal size copy paper a year ago. They were clearanced at Staples for $15 each, and it was just such a good deal I had to have them. Each case weighs 70 pounds, after all. It must be valuable. Surely it is, but to whom? Not to me. I have no use for paper that’s 14 inches long. I could say that I might in the future, but I’d be conning myself. Never in a million years will 140 pounds of legal size paper be worth owning. If I got them as a gift I’d accept them, but only to sell to someone else. It’s much more important to get rid of these space-eaters now, rather than deceiving myself into thinking they might become useful. I can always buy new stuff, but I can’t always get rid of old stuff.

You can make money selling your stuff, be it your creative art or the trinkets you’ve collected. It takes effort, though. I still spent too long writing all the descriptions and taking photos of all this junk, and I could never do this as a profitable business. I can rejoice that I am making progress in getting rid of a large amount of stuff and earning a small amount of money, because it would have been easy to get nothing done today. Don’t cry over wasted time in the past, but look toward what you can do in the present. It actually makes no different if you’ve been operating below the capacities of your talents for years or decades, because that is irrevocable now. The time in the future is also going to come to pass whether you like it or not. Thinking like this gives me a lot of motivation. I used this on my last physics exam, where I studied the problems and formulas for over a dozen hours even though I’m near-failing in the class. I could stay depressed because I didn’t put in enough effort earlier in the course, but that’s over and done with regardless of my feelings.

Now I know why people have garage sales and sell stuff so cheaply. Most people, myself included, go through six-month periods where they acquire lots of stuff. Everything I’ve bought has been at fair prices, even free, but most of it has outlived its usefulness or was never useful to begin with. When you’re evaluating an item to purchase, you must not ask “is this a good deal?” You must ask “will this item help me a lot?” If the answer is yes, it might be that you should buy it even if it’s over-priced. If you’re dying of thirst, it’s a great deal to pay $100 for a bottle of water. But if the answer is no, the item isn’t worth buying at any price. I’m starting to think in this manner, so I should be able to end the garage sale cycle right here.

The other key is to simply stop buying things. If you’re going to buy something to resell, it has to be something you’re going to list on eBay or at your own shop within the next day. If you aren’t committed to flipping it within the next week, don’t buy it. If it’s a really great deal, become committed. It’s quite simple. We just have the tendency to make it way too complicated.

I love my material possessions. I have a camera and lenses I used every day to create art, a computer with two monitors that lets me communicate my thoughts and creativity to others, a good color and black and white printer that does the same for hard copy, a piano I play occasionally, hundreds of prints of my photos I give out to people, clothes that I enjoy wearing. But the camera I had three years ago that’s now broken is not a possession I love, because it’s not useful to me. I should probably throw it out. It’s not doing anything as a relic.

Objects that have sentimental value usually have less sentimental value than you think. Having a whole bunch of small trinkets you never use on your desk is even worse, because they’ll stop you from thinking. I become a lot more productive with a clean desk, even if I’m just typing at the computer. I need to work on that.

At least move the stuff from your desk to a drawer, or under the table, or to plastic bins, as an interim measure. Throw out old receipts and paperwork. We burn them in our wood-burning stove. Moving things out of sight makes you more productive, but there’s a trap: you encourage yourself to fill your space with more stuff, while never getting rid of the junk you’ve hidden. That’s why no one can have a big enough car or house or apartment.

I want to settle this issue for myself now, so I don’t have to deal with it for the next days, months, years, decades.

If your house burning down does not seem such an unpleasant thought, then you need to clear out the clutter.

Please buy my stuff. When you do, ignore everything I just said about buying stuff. :cool:

Investment and Efficiency

Say I have a plain text file of 500 dates formatted as MM/DD/YY and I need to change them to YYYY-MM-DD. There are a couple of options. I can do it all by hand, wearing out the backspace and arrow keys, and opening myself to the possibilities of typos. Or, I can find an automated way to do it. Say I’m slow, and it takes me three hours of fighting to find a good text editor and figure out how to use regular expressions to make the changes all at once. It would’ve been quicker just to do it all by hand. So which method is better?

Obviously, using regular expressions was much more efficient, but the overhead was much higher. There is a comparatively steep learning curve, and it takes a lot more time to figure out and implement than mere manual labor. But it’s an investment, and the investment is all up front rather than being spread over years. Some day I’ll need to do something similar again, and leveraging the experience I gained here will make it that much quicker.

Pursuing efficiency even when the road is bumpier and filled with pitfalls is a hard resolution to make.

Personally, I’d prefer to look for a creative and automated solution to a problem, even if it takes ten times more time and effort than doing it the normal way. The normal way is boring. Being engaged in the mind is always the better choice over being efficient in inefficient processes.

Take my How to give file names to your photos article for example. A pro-progress yet short-sighted person might ask, “Why would you waste time on something so trivial? Just give descriptive file names to your photos like a normal person.” But that’s not the point. The point is to find the better way to do things and follow through, even if the upfront investment is higher. Inventing is always more fun, even if the gains are minimal, for the coolness factor alone. I’d rather be creative but take six hours than to work efficiently but boringly in three.

This website is an example of high efficiency plus high investment. When I post a photo here, all I do is upload a file, link to it, write out a description and some keywords, and possibly a source image, which takes all of ten minutes. Then, an army of automated processes take over to start updating tag pages, category listings, RSS feeds, counters, galleries, posts lists, and more, site-wide and beyond. A URI is created based on my title, automatically (spaces turn to hyphens, etc.). The post counter in my sidebar updates. Three thumbnails with links are dynamically created with links: a small one for the header, a large one for the post, and a medium one for the gallery. The gallery is automated updated and every older photo is pushed back. The small thumbnail appears in the header randomly. The large one pops up right on the screen when you click, and all the code is handled on the server side. Photos pop up at the top of the home page, and at the bottom of the index.

My server automatically mirrors the post to LiveJournal and Facebook, serving as a running backup and giving options to my readers. An RSS feed is updated, and a third party called Feedburner sends out an email for my posts to 150 subscribers each day. Sites I link to are pinged, Google, Yahoo, and others automatically start crawling, and my new post starts popping up around the thripp.com network: on the main page, in the global feed, in the latest posts, and in every site’s sidebar. The local search engine is updated behind the scenes. Three of my other posts are displayed below the new photo through automated keyword matching. A printable, formatted version is created and linked to. The timestamp is saved. Archives by date are created. Social bookmarking links are added. A comments system and accompanying RSS feed pops up. When the second visitor stops by, a static HTML copy and gzipped (compressed) version has been created, and one or the other is automatically served up depending on what my visitor’s browser supports. It’s like magic.

The time investment for all this has been quite large. Despite doing almost no original coding and the extensive open-source community around WordPress MU, it’s taken my hundreds of hours to plan and design everything, to work out compatibility issues between plugins, to experiment, to debug, to get the software to do what I want instead of what it wants to do. I had to get a basic understanding of HTML, CSS, PHP, Apache, MySQL, SEO, etc. just to know where to go. Far harder than plugging away on deviantART. But that is someone else’s website, where they make the profits. You might think the efficient way is to forgo the investment and keep posting there. Then when I get banned on frivolous charges or get fed up with the service, I can move to Flickr or MySpace or SmugMug, confuse all my followers, and start the process anew. But to the leader’s mind, that is obviously the wrong way to go, despite the low barriers to entry.

The literal overhead for all this is very high. I even had to switch hosts recently, because the old one wasn’t cutting it with the weight of the processes. There are hundreds of files and scripts on my server, all handling different pieces of a dyanmic website. This is heavy and slow. But the efficiency outweighs it. It’s not efficiency in terms of computer time (insignificant), but efficiency in terms of human time (very significant). The most efficient way for the server is if I post a static HTML file with some text and one image. But this is no good for me, and it’s no good for my visitors. Computer time is always cheap, but your time is quite important. If a much faster or more complex computer can do what you do, even if it costs five times more, it’s worth it. This is efficiency triumphing over investment.

Efficiency is always the higher road, because it’s human. You don’t see cats coming up with more efficient ways to hunt birds. They spend hundreds of years on the same tried, true, and tired practices. They’re being quite “efficient,” but it’s done in a most uneconomical way, so much so that they may as well be wasting 90% of their time, if they were only using creative solutions in the remaining 10%, like weapons or camouflage or traps.

As an employee, you’ll often be stuck with methods that are battle hardened, but highly inefficient. Perhaps it is the library that has all its employees add bibliographic records by hand, because the administrators are too afraid to change systems. Or it could be the office store that focuses on pushing valueless warranties at the expense of its customers, the government agency that stifles thriftiness by requiring you to meet wasteful spending quotas, or the college that is afraid to shift to digital photography or online classes. Inefficiency is the way of the bureaucracy, just as it’s the way of animals and dull people. It’s easy to take the long, uncreative way; there’s almost no risk of loss because it’s a sure-fire success. That doesn’t make it worthwhile, though, because its accomplishments are meager and unspirited at best. To get somewhere, you have to invest time and money, even if it may yield no benefits.

Some organizations are more daring and better to work for. Google is known for that. But all of them are going to turn blindly against investment occasionally. The only way to avoid it is to work for yourself, and even then, doing the best thing rather than the safe thing is hard. Anything else is being penny wise but dollar foolish. Like my sociology teacher used to say: bureaucracies are hardy and resilient. So are cockroaches (except in that photo). Do you want to be like a cockroach? It isn’t worth it, no matter how much vulnerability you are shielded from.

You can use investing to garner efficiency in many areas of your life. Why buy a pack of cigarettes when you can save by buying the whole carton? If you’re a smoker, you don’t expect to suddenly quit, do you? Why publish your book through an on-demand press that charges $5 a copy, when you can get it for under $1 by doing a run of 5000 up front, and paying all at once? That’s what my Dad did. It’s expensive to start, but is going to save you so much in the long run. Unless you totally fail. My Dad hasn’t been successful. But if you don’t take the risk of committing yourself, you’re all that more likely to avoid success. You’ll be stifling yourself every step along the way, because your subconscious mind wants to prove itself right for not being willing to invest.

Investment is not a panacea; you must use it on things you are very committed to; things which have a chance of succeeding. I wouldn’t say buying $10,000 in lottery tickets is a good thing. But if you’re doing one thing well, you are efficiently losing money. It’s a much more efficient way than heading to the grocery store each week to buy just one lottery ticket. All those wasted trips…You could’ve just thrown away your money all at once and have been done with it! And that is the best choice, but only if you’ll be wasting the money anyway.

High investment narrows your focus. Instead of working willy-nilly, you pick a specific path and work at it incessantly. Being a jack of all trades is great, but gaining cursory knowledge of ten subjects can take as much time as becoming an expert in one. I’m trying to become an expert with my photography, at all costs. I hardly play the piano anymore, because it just wasn’t working out when I wanted to focus my attention elsewhere. I’m invested in being unemployed, because I want to make money off my passion without having to work (my work isn’t work—it’s fun). But if I stay on the fence and refuse to invest time, money, efforts, and resources, I’m guaranteed not to succeed. If I focus too heavily on maintaining dead hobbies rather than building my strength, I’m also squandering efficiency. The path is always changing, and old goals need to be abandoned unfinished to make way for the new. But this in fact is the highest investment of all: investment not for your comfort, but for your growth.