The Efficiency Fallacy

Hi all. I’ve been lurking for a while. I’ve spent weeks trying to figure out the perfect PKM system despite knowing that I should “just get started”.

I finally really got stuck into it today, and it really is such a release to stop caring about the most efficient system and to just start writing.

In celebration I wanted to share my first note with you which is based on a logical fallacy that I identified in myself that I have coined the Efficiency Fallacy.

[[The Efficiency Fallacy is an error in thinking where one believes that the most efficient process will equate to an optimum result.]]

Efficiency is a rigid concept where the input, output and waste is strictly defined. Because of the strictly defined parameters, efficiency can usually be represented and a ratio of the output divided by the input. It makes it easy to understand and represent as a single number.

Being optimal on the other hand is being strategic. Developing a strategy with an understanding of the variables at play, the environment that you are in and the obstacles that you need to adapt to.

Optimisation is still has input and output but secondary outputs or considerations may arise to ensure the viability or quality of the final output. The output has qualifiers.

Sometime the best optimisation strategy is to test and learn and then to iterate (or optimise) as you learn more.

Making a process more efficient is a valid tactic for achieving an optimal result. But only when you understand how the process interact with the overall ecosystem.

An example Reading books:

The efficiency approach would be to use software to increase your reading speed to make your reading speed more efficient. Input is time, output is words read, ratio = Words per minute WPM.

An optimal approach would be to first know what you want to achieve from reading the book. Skim the contents and introduction, then update what you want to get out of it. Speed read parts that are less relevant, deeply read and take notes on areas that are.

Just wanted to share :slight_smile:

Happy new year!


Well said! :smiley:

I 100% agree. Seen this time and time again in software/app development, business and team process management, and elsewhere. This is this constant belief that improving efficiency will always benefit. Issue is that most organizations don’t think through the law of diminishing returns that eventually it just isn’t worth the planning, implementation and maintenance associated with getting the additional efficiencies. Sometimes you just have to call it and give up on trying to squeeze more blood from the stone.

Uptime is measured in however many 9’s are required for your usecase but each incremental 9 is expensive from a dollar, energy and time perspective.

Thanks for sharing and HNY!

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Here’s a great chart that shows how much time investment is actually warranted:
XKCD: Is It Worth The Time?


I saw the graph but couldn’t understand it!

The table demonstrates in clear terms whether making a task more efficient is actually worth it based on the frequency that you do that task and by the amount of time you save each time you do the task after making it more efficient.

Ok that’s what it is about! Thanks for elaborating :slight_smile:

Wherein on the “X-Axis” you’ve got the frequency of the task (I do this X times/day/week/month/year/…), and the Y Axis gives you the expected ROI. This chart is calculated over five years, which sadly isn’t properly made clear by the graph itself, but only by its (sub)-title.

Ironically, this chart doesn’t take into account the relative efficiency by comparing required time pre efficiency boost with how long a task takes after I made it more efficient. Not to mention non-time benefits of common side-effects of (especially computer-related) efficiency increase.

If I need 2.5 seconds to switch from obsidian into the browser, press Alt+U to copy the current tabs’ URL, then switch back and (select a word to embed into, then) press Alt+F10 to paste it formatted as a link into a word, that takes me ~3.273 seconds total on average (I averaged this across 100 runs just for this post).

  • marking the word to embed into
  • switching to the browser
  • waiting a 200ms for my script to recognise I came from into my browser (necessary for this to work the way it does)
  • press Alt+U to copy the url onto my clipboard using the script
  • tab back to obsidian
  • press Alt+F10 to paste the URL into the previously selected word

However, if I do this manually I need an approximate 4.3 seconds (minus delay from my timer hotkey, which this time must be manually started/stopped, instead of being baked into the script itself. )

In the end, At best I skim off let’s say 2 seconds every time. Do this fifty times a day makes this a daily save of less than two minutes. This is in no way shape or form a good routine, efficiency-wise. However, I also neglect some upsides, like

  • less wrist strain as a result of reaching for the mouse less to move to the address bar
  • preserving my clipboard contents due to the way my script works
  • ability to copy both URL and selected text in one motion, then paste separately
  • in theory full-automisation from obsidian’s window if I were to set it up fully automated - which is really not hard, if I am being honest. Might take me like ten minutes to reduce this down to a single keycombo to do the entire routine (only if I don’t also copy text)
  • pile-on-effect of having less distracting things to do, keeping my brain focused on my train of thought - instead of taking a sidestep to manually move to the bar, copy the url, then paste it manually using Alt+F10

And probably a lot of other factors with smaller and smaller returns.