TSR #4 Value Producing Work

by Hazard 2 min read6th Dec 20175 comments


**This is part of a series of posts where I call out some ideas from the latest edition of The Strategic Review (written by Sebastian Marshall), and give some prompts and questions that I think people might find useful to answer. I include a summary of the most recent edition, but it's not a replacement for reading the actual article. Sebastian is an excellent writer, and your life will be full of saddness if you don't read his piece. The link is below.

The Strategic Review Background Ops #4: Value Producing Work


  • Odds are a lot of any given process in your life has a fair amount of waste in it.
  • One can often significantly increase their output by making reducing the waste in an existing process that you already sink time into.
  • Toyota is worth studying independantly?
  • Walking to the sandwich shop is not the essential good part of getting a sandwich (unless, of course, it is).
  • Though this approach can seem like it will increase stress, a more streamlined life helps reduce stress.
  • The process
    • Take action out of the background.
    • Completely explicate it.
    • What are the unessential steps that don’t have to be there?
  • Be hardcore
    • Start with high standards, then gradually work towards meeting them.
    • Be skeptical that anything you’re doing adds value.

Eliminate waste. Pretty solid directive. It’s almost tautologically a good thing. It seems like the easiest way to run into trouble is to be caught up in thinking about the symbolic representation of waste, and not the actual thing.

Eliminating things from your life because they match the symbolic representation of waste can do you a lot of harm. I’m an undergrad in engineering, and I know a lot of people who operate as if they’ve decided that sleep is a waste of their time. I doubt that many of them are actually genetic freaks whose peak performance comes at 5 hours of sleep each night.

Think of waste in a pure sense, an activity, motion, or effort that does not serve your values. This requires having a solid grasp on what you value.

The most interesting part of thinking about waste to me, is thinking about the edge cases. Things that seem to be wasteful, but a part of you argues that there is a key part that you really do value. These cases are a great oppurtunity to ask yourself, “Is there a way to get a more direct supply?”

See if you can break apart the pieces of a given activity and figure out what parts give you value and how. Once you’ve determined what is the “essential goodness” you get from the activity, are there other ways to directly access that goodness?

So try out this process.

  1. What is something you do that you enjoy but that you suspect hides some waste?
  2. What is the “essential goodness” there?
  3. Is there a better way to get your daily does of said goodness?

Here are some examples in my past:

  • I used to be okay with doing my school work with and around other people because I wanted to be social. At some point, I realized that if I worked alone without distraction, I could get my work done about 30% faster, and then could use that time to spend with people when the focus was enjoying each other's company. So I did that.
  • I used to listen to lyrical music while I did homework, even though I knew that I was distracted more by music with lyrics than without. At some point I couldn’t justify it to myself and switched to always going with lyricless music. Still haven’t gotten around to making more space for “just listening to music” though.

Examples of things I just investigated:

  • Every so often I catch myself checking various blogs to see if there has been an update. I definitely should get an RSS feed (just added action to todoist)
  • Every so often I catch myself on facebook, normally with the story, “Oh, maybe someone cool has posted something.” I should take some time to go through my feed and unfollow and cull as many lacklustre inputs as possible (probably should follow something like this).
  • Sometimes I have to go far out of my way to find a water fountain to drink at. Also, something about water fountains always makes me stop drinking before I’m satiated. Normally I tell myself I can’t use a water bottle because my backpack is too small. I should get a carabiner and attach a water bottle to one of the loops on the back.

Take 5 min and see if can get any gains from this.


  • What should you do if you don’t have introspective access to what you really get out of an activity?
  • What’s something in your life that you suspect hides a lot of waste, but you aren’t sure about how to improve?
  • Is there such a thing as “an acceptable level of waste”?