A Life Unoptimized

When Mess Becomes The Optimal Choice

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A Life Unoptimized:

In the last month, I have come across three podcasts that I regularly listen to, all discussing the idea of optimization, or the lack thereof, in our daily lives.

The first podcast was a recent episode of Plain English, hosted by Derek Thompson, where he interviewed a couple of guests about various health fads like cold tubs, caffeine, and alcohol.

During the discussion, one line from a guest stood out to me.

“Life is about so much more than optimization. If everything in your life becomes work, then what’s the point of staying alive?”

This statement resonated with me because I am guilty of trying to optimize everything. My brain has always been wired this way. However, this approach often leaves me feeling more stressed and overwhelmed.


To determine what's worth optimizing in my life, I now use a straightforward framework: Is the task or process enjoyable? Will I be happier (less stress) if I optimize it or if I leave it alone?

To illustrate this point, let me provide two examples on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Firstly, I spend a lot of time doing housework, from landscaping to mowing the lawn to fixing and building things around the house. For most people, this sounds like a tedious chore that they would prefer to hire someone else to do. But not me.

I find great pleasure in doing these tasks because they allow me to spend time outdoors, away from technology and screens. They provide a chance to get a workout and soak up some sun, as well as learn new things about plants and construction—basic skills that now appear to be a dying art. When I fix things around the house, it gives me an opportunity to purchase new tools and acquire new skills, which is very rewarding.

The added benefit of saving money is not the real reason why I enjoy these tasks; it's because I am drawn to them and find them creatively fulfilling. I want to point to something with a sense of accomplishment and say “I made that”.

On the other hand, there are times when optimization becomes counterproductive and hits a point of diminishing returns. For instance, I was recently reminded of this during an Animal Spirits podcast where Michael and Ben shared a story of someone who skipped vacation with their family to keep an eye on the market. While this may sound extreme to most of us, there have been times when I've prioritized the market above everything else.

Luckily, I've come to the realization early enough in my investing career that I don’t need to watch the market every second or research my individual stocks for hours on end each week. Instead, I’ve relinquished most of my control by using a financial advisor (and index funds), who helps me tackle real problems and work through issues. I've learned to give up chasing the extra percentage or two of yield and have found that my stress levels around investments have gone down significantly.

Remember that optimization is not necessarily about maximizing every aspect of your life. It's about finding a balance that works for you and helps you achieve your goals while also allowing you to enjoy your life and the people in it.


Being unoptimized, or not constantly striving for maximum efficiency or productivity, can have several benefits:

  • Increased creativity: When you're not hyper-focused on optimizing every aspect of your life, you're more likely to allow yourself to think outside the box and come up with innovative ideas.

  • Reduced stress: Constantly striving for optimization can be stressful and overwhelming. By embracing the idea of being unoptimized, you can reduce the pressure you put on yourself and feel more relaxed.

  • More authentic experiences: Sometimes, when we try to optimize everything, we can lose sight of what really matters. Being unoptimized can allow you to have more authentic and spontaneous experiences.

  • Greater flexibility: When you're not overly concerned with optimization, you're more open to change and can adapt more easily to new situations.

  • More meaningful relationships: When you're not always trying to optimize your time, you have more space to connect with others on a deeper level and build more meaningful relationships.

Overall, being unoptimized can lead to a more balanced and fulfilling life, with greater emphasis on creativity, authenticity, flexibility, and human connection.

Embrace the entropy.

“Sometimes mess is more than just the easy choice—it’s the optimal choice.”

- Brian Christian, Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions