December 4, 2012 - Buenos Aires, Argentina

How You Waste Time Every Time You Think You Are Making It Count

Have you ever wasted so much time on something that in the end you didn’t want to stop, because you didn’t want to waste the time you already wasted on that? Welcome to the 21st century, an era where time is more precious than ever, but still we waste a lot of it wondering how we will make it up for the time we are wasting.

My mum asked me to make the art of a banner for an event. After hours and hours of work, my mum comes and says “Take this picture out and use the other one you used in the brochures” while pointing to the main image in the banner. I couldn’t believe it, it had taken me so much time to put that photo there; I adjusted the colours, made sure it blended perfectly, put some cool stuff in it, why to take it off? “I don’t like it. And besides, it is out of focus” she said.


I couldn’t believe she wouldn’t use the pic. I tried to convince her in every possible way. It wasn’t because I would have any problem with the other picture, which was actually better, because the other one was already ready. The only thing I had to do was to substitute the pictures, it would hardly take 30 seconds. But I wasted so much time in this one. Why to use the other one?

There is little party happening tonight at city centre, and today is also the premiere of a film about the French revolution . A certain woman, who is very fond of French history, although inclined to going to the party because of the presence of a pretty interesting guy who is new in town, is heading to the premiere to accompany a friend, who got a free ticket to the film. The friend got just one free ticket, so the woman is buying her own ticket.

After 30 minutes it is pretty obvious that the film totally sucks. The friend decided to leave. She knew the party was much more fun. The woman stayed even though she knew the party was a better option, and she could probably talk to the new guy. But the ticket was expensive. She paid to be there, so she wouldn’t leave until the film was finished!

What does the story of this woman have in common with my indignation when my mum asked me to change the pictures? It is something called “The price of investment”. When we have done a significant investment in something and this investment turns out to be bad, we just can’t conceive it. In our mind there is something like “I’ve invested so much in this, I won’t give up now”. Sometimes it is because of our pride, sometimes it’s because we think that if we do something this worthless investment will be useful. If you stop and see, there was no advantage whatsoever in continuing the investment in the previous examples. If I changed the pictures the banner would be better than before, if I didn’t it would stay a little odd. But there was nothing that I could do that would give me back the time I spent preparing the image. In the case of the woman, she probably thought that staying in the theatre she was making her money count. But the reality was that she already spent the money, and there was nothing she could do to have it back. If she reasoned a bit, she would notice she had two alternatives. She could either go to the party and have fun meeting the guy she liked, or stay there and watch the bad film to the end. Hence, given that neither of the alternatives would make her money go back to her wallet, the best rational decision was obviously the party, independently of the previous investment. The friend who didn’t hesitate to leave the theatre in fact made this decision so easily because she certainly thought she was losing nothing, because her ticket was free.

Have you ever seen someone who has a problematic car? The car breaks again and again. and the owner is always spending more and more money to fix it. The car breaks, but the owner doesn’t want to sell it. He thinks the price he can get in the car is too low for the investment he has already made. The owner can’t see that there is no “get investment back” alternative. He can either get a little money on the car, or stay with a problematic car for a while more — this alternative would probably lead to more spending in fixes.

Many times, because we spent so much effort on something, we just can’t admit it was a bad choice and leave it. When you go to the theatre you do exactly as the woman of the example. It doesn’t matter how bad the film is, you don’t leave the room for anything on earth. You paid for the ticket and you think that if you stay, you are making it count. You buy clothes that are ugly as hell. But you paid for them, so you have to wear them at least some times before you give’em to someone else. The food is terrible, but you eat it all because in the end it was an expensive restaurant.

Yesterday I was writing a post about something I did when I was angry. I wrote a bit and went to sleep. Today I sat here and tried to continue it. I don’t like it, but I have already written a thousand words! It is almost done, I just have to finish and it’s ready to publish. And then it dawned on me. I gain nothing if I finish it. I won’t get my time back, but I can stop right now and don’t waste more on it. Then, I thought of writing about how I didn’t write about anger, which was much better.

Sometimes you waste so much time on something that in the end you don”t want to stop, because you don’t want to waste the time you already wasted on that. But remember, you can’t have your time or your money back, but you still can decide not to waste the time and money you have left.