Productivity tip: Minimizing the minimal

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This is a followup to this article I wrote a month or so ago about productivity.

For better or worse, we have a central vacuum in our house. From my perspective, it is just a normal vacuum cleaner except that it requires a lot of maintenance and costs a lot of money when it something goes wrong. But then again, I could be way off because I don’t do the vacuuming in our house–that is the kids’ job.

That brings up another problem. The children are not so careful. They vacuum up things like socks that get stuck in the hose. Sometimes, the only real way to get to a sock that is stuck in the middle of 35 foot hose is to do surgery at that spot in the hose and patch it up. And after you do that a few times, the hose has to be replaced.

Now here is where things get so bizarre that you might not believe me. A 35 foot hose costs $300. Yes I know it is just a hose and yes I know that you can buy an entire good vacuum cleaner for that. And yes Marla price shopped it. It costs $300.


Marla happened to find a local guy who told her he would sell it for $250. He just had to order it. So she told him to go ahead.  A week or two passed and she called to check on it. He said the wrong hose had come in and had to reorder. Then he called a few weeks later and said he had a hose that would work with a few caveats. It would only work with an older version of the vacuum attachment itself. If she would trade in our vacuum attachment, he would give her the hose he had, an older version of the vacuum attachment and would knock an additional $50 off the price.

If you know Marla, you know that she is nice–incredibly nice. She has empathy for people and sometimes, it works against her. The guy she was dealing with is elderly and he seemed to be trying to do a lot for her so she agreed and brought home the hose and a vacuum attachment that looked like Noah may have used it on the ark. I raised my eyebrows but said very little.

Within a week, it became obvious that he had just patched together some parts that really did not fit together and we had been taken advantage of. I kept having to help the kids fix the problems with it and I got annoyed. Marla still felt sorry for the guy so I finally called him and told him I wanted the whole deal unravelled and I would get the hose I needed from someone else. He refused so we finally worked out a settlement.

When the dust cleared, the hose ended up costing us $400 ($100 more than it should have). That is sometimes what happens when you try to save $50.

I don’t like the resolution but I was not going to fight about it much with the guy because the truth is we lost something more valuable than $400: we lost a lot of time on something that was very unimportant. Sometimes you have to cut your losses in life because you just can’t afford to keep throwing your time at things that don’t deserve your time.

As the guy was lecturing me when I settled things up with him (he likes to lecture), I finally cut him off and said something like this: my life is complicated enough and Marla’s life is complicated enough and we cannot afford to dedicate a lot of time in our lives to something as insignificant as a vacuum cleaner. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on something that should be as simple as a phone call to buy a new hose and I certainly don’t want to spend my time maintaining the vacuum solution he had pieced together for us.

Vacuum cleaner drama is just not where I want my time spent. Marla does not have time for vacuum cleaner drama either. Yes, cleaning is important but it needs to be as small a part of our life as possible.

If you want to be productive, your focus has to be on the things that are most important. When you find yourself immersed in something, stop to think what it is costing you in time and then decide if it is worth it. Going back to the store because you found out on the way home that you were overcharged $0.50? Maybe not worth it. Changing your own oil in your cars to save a few dollars? Maybe not worth it. Spending a day doing a job in the house that a professional could knock out in an hour with a $75 service call? Maybe not worth it.

Saving money at the expense of valuable time is a very iffy decision. Be conscious of the value of your time and it will change your life and make you more productive.

And don’t buy a central vacuum…