With a few clicks of your keyboard, you can find hundreds of opinions hashing out the best ways to live and be and do. Travel, spend money, invest, be productive, structure your day, listen to music, brine a turkey — there’s a right and a wrong way for everything, and god forbid you use the wrong credit card or incorrectly word an email given the breadth of resources at your disposal.
With so much information out there on how to optimise, well, everything, there’s just no excuse to do something in a way an expert deems substandard. What if you take a route not recommended by Google Maps and end up at your destination four minutes later than you would have if you followed the AI’s instructions? Quelle horreur.
And we’re certainly guilty of it — after all, what is life hacking if not trying to figure out the best tips and tricks to get you through your day? But while much of this advice can be instructive — you really should learn more about investing for retirement and how to schedule an email, for example — some of it is unnecessary.
Not every facet of life needs to be “optimised”, whatever that means. Firstly, and it’s something I think about often while writing about money, because the “best” version of something is different for everyone. In other words, it doesn’t really exist. And secondly, because sometimes optimization just isn’t the goal.
I’ll give you one example. In the Lifehacker chat, we were discussing the best time to buy a (live) Christmas tree. Should you wait until after Thanksgiving? Buy one when it’s “cheapest”, which happens to be Christmas Eve? Or calculate when it’s most likely to look and smell the best on Christmas? And on and on.
There are a million questions you could ask about this (and I’m almost certain someone will be tackling some of them in a future post) one small, borderline insignificant life event. At some point you just have to ask yourself: When do you want the damn tree up?
My very individual, very unscientific answer is: Now. I want the tree up now. I don’t want to wait until Christmas Eve — I want to buy one this weekend, if I’m able, decorate it, and enjoy it for weeks to come. You might want to wait until your kids come home from college so they can help you decorate, or until after Thanksgiving because you can’t stand when the Christmas season starts too early. And you know what? That’s all fine. That’s your optimization, and you should go with it.
This is one example, but it applies to virtually everything. Yes, I could wait another year to buy a phone and hope that the new version has a slightly better camera. I could look up a million recipes and then a million restaurants on Yelp to find the perfect meal for a perfect first date.
I could wake up at 4 a.m. and meditate and journal for an hour and get to inbox zero and work out for three hours and write 3,000 words of my new novel and go to bed at 8 p.m.
Or I could just buy the phone I want now, pick the restaurant around the corner I’ve gone to once a week for the past three months, and sleep in. I could give myself a break and stop thinking about how to use every second of my life in the most “productive” way possible.
I could pick a suitable credit card that gets me points back on the things I buy and stop worrying if there was a card that was very slightly different and would have netted me 200 more points this year. I could take a job that pays well and lets me do what I want to do without worrying if it’s the absolute best fit on every conceivable measurement. I could book a plane ticket with Delta and not worry about if I would have saved $20 with Spirit.
In other words, I could stop trying to maximise my life and instead just live it. Yes, I want to make smart, informed decisions. I want to save money and travel smartly and learn a thing or two about the gadgets that power my life. But I also want to buy a Christmas tree now, today, and enjoy it for the next month and a half.
Sure, some of the needles might brown and fall off, and maybe it’s going to cost a bit more this week than it will in a week or two weeks or three weeks. But that’s just fine with me if I get to enjoy it in my apartment for the next six. It might not be optimised by your standards, but it’s going to maximise my happiness. And sometimes that’s the most important metric.