Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Bakari Akil II Ph.D.

Communication Central

The Law of Diminishing Returns - Or Overdoing it

The Law of Diminishing Returns - Or Overdoing it

Posted Jun 06, 2010

Recently my wife and I moved from the suburbs to the city so I could be closer to the college where I work. I had the misfortune of being stuck in traffic for two hours on the way to work the previous semester and had had enough. We had to move closer.

So after the movers delivered our belongings to our new address we were faced with the task of cleaning our previously rented home so we could receive our deposit back. We had five days for major tasks such as patching and painting walls, having the carpet cleaned, manicuring the yard and pressure washing the driveway. We also had to handle minor details such as cleaning baseboards, wiping down cabinets, sweeping the garage and vacuuming.

Each day we made the 45-minute drive back to our old home to knock out our duties. By the third day we were ‘dragging" and our spirits were low. On the fifth day we finished all of the chores on our to-do-list and headed to our new home. All we had to do was turn in our garage door openers and keys to the property manager.

Yet, I awoke the next morning to my wife telling me that we forgot to empty the materials from our recycling bin and that there were just a couple of last minute touch-ups she wanted to do.

I immediately felt uneasy. In my early years when dealing with security deposits there was always an amount of money that property managers would subtract from the deposit and it would be based on something that was highly subjective. The first couple of times when I went ‘all out' to make sure a property was in ‘tip top' shape before leaving I ended up getting back much less than anticipated. The hours and days spent scrubbing and cleaning were not worth it.

I began to think about the Law of Diminishing Returns, an economic concept that asserts that after a certain point further investment (or effort) does not increase your expected return. In fact it can reduce it. When I thought about this law I thought that if we went back to the house no good would result.

I was right.

While we were driving there I noticed the cars in the oncoming lanes slowing down to a crawl. I mentioned it to my wife, who was at the wheel, and she looked in that direction. Meanwhile, the truck in front of us stopped completely. It had no brake lights so we had no warning. My wife hit the brakes and then made the decision to turn into the next lane to avoid hitting the truck. Real Hollywood ‘action.' When we swerved into the next lane we saw the cause of all the commotion. A group of ducks was crossing the street.

That's how the day started off.

When we arrived at the house we began final touch-ups and the madness began. I re-adjusted a fire alarm and I fell from the chair that I was standing on. While I was grasping for a hold that didn't exist to keep from injuring myself, the chair crashed into the wall. I was okay, but the electrical outlet that the chair crashed into was not as pieces of it lay around the room.

Next, while re-touching a few areas on the wall with paint I spilled quite a bit on the laundry room floor. Further, after stomping around the house again the house looked liked it had barely been vacuumed and we didn't bring the vacuum with us. In other words, for each thing we tried to correct, we wrecked something in the process. We were not adding value by trying to make the house perfect or increasing the probability of a higher return on the security deposit. When we finally locked up and delivered the keys I was thoroughly relieved.


I used my moving experience to highlight the theory of the Law of Diminishing Returns and the concept of ‘overdoing it,' but it can be applied to almost any experience; whether it is running 5 miles the night before a 3k race or staying up to 5 AM to study for an exam at 8 AM. Perhaps my nervousness played a role in some of the mishaps but the underlying theory still holds true. When you have prepared well and done your best it is time to relax and let what will happen, happen. Further investment will most likely be detrimental to the outcome sought and in fact can detract from the return expected.

In other words, do your best, but don't over do it."

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. is the author of Pop Psychology - The Psychology of Pop Culture and Everyday Life! You can also check out his page on Twitter.

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