There’s a beautiful scene in Master of None where Dev (Aziz Ansari) can’t decide where to go for lunch. Even after he decides on tacos, he needs to know who has the best tacos. He whips out two devices and consults Google, Eater and Yelp. He sorts through dozens of lists, eventually settling on a food truck that is the most delicious taco in the city. Even when he’s there, he can’t decide what taco to get – he asks “What are the most popular tacos? Between carnitas and chicken, which do you think customers are enjoying the most – like from their faces?” It turns out the truck was sold out – he took too long in deciding. “What am I supposed to do now?” he complains. “Go eat the world’s second-best taco?”
I faced a similar situation when my roommate hosted a movie night a few months ago – we watched the first ten minutes of four different movies, with about five times as many suggestions thrown around, before settling on 22 Jump Street, which almost everyone had seen already. Every movie we looked at was objectively good – between seven smartphones on IMDB, Netflix’s recommendation engine and a laptop, we were bound to get good candidates.
We live in an era of endless optimization. Recommendation engines and algorithms and unpaid interns and random people on the internet are constantly churning out ways in which we can have the best. We think endlessly about opportunity cost and are paralyzed by choice – am I getting the best food on the menu? Am I following the right meditation program? Is my boyfriend of the right race to generate the cutest babies? (Not joking, I’ve heard this before.) Am I writing about the best blog topic I can? My favorite: Am I waiting long enough to text my crush back? (The blog is pretty entertaining as well.)
There is this aura of complexity that’s created by our endless need to make a well-informed choice, and this aura obscures what our original goals were – to the point where we forget what we started out to do. We spend so much time focused on opportunity cost that we forget about search cost.
Over the last three months, I’ve attempted to apply the concept time is money to reduce analysis paralysis in my life. I don’t implement it strictly, but the general concept is as follows:
Would I pay someone (me) $10 an hour to make this decision? Conversely, would I be willing to do this for $10 an hour? (BTW if anyone makes an app out of this, I want to be listed as a “technically cofounder”)
Would I pay someone $10 to spend an hour on Yelp deciding between taco trucks? Fuck no, that’s like 5 tacos. I’ll go to both 🙂
Would I spend an hour optimizing a Coachella schedule for $10? Absolutely. I do that for fun.
It’s worked out pretty well so far, but if you have better ideas I would love to hear them. I’d pay $10 to work on better allocating my time!