The sea of inventory.

You’ve Got Inventory

on waiting for things and hoarding goals

One Monday afternoon a very smart operations management teacher of mine told my class to think of examples of inventory buildup in our lives. People started raising their hands like crazy:

Doing all your homework on Sunday

Buying $60 of groceries on Saturday, and lasting for the week.

Collecting dirty dishes in the sink

Those are very practical examples of inventory in one’s life. But the concept of inventory goes much further:

You have inventory if you’re

  1. collecting things: goals, ideas, unfinished work, material items {i.e. unread emails, the homework from your classes that isn’t due for two weeks, the clothes in your closet}

2. waiting for things: information, entertainment, communication {i.e. the email response from that person, new episode of The Mindy Project, the breakup conversation with your girlfriend/boyfriend}

Because inventory is anything that you have or expect to have, that you haven’t extracted value out of. It buffers against unexpected forces, demands, and pressures from life.

Why does inventory matter? And why does it feel good?

In the case of a zombie apocalypse, having high inventory of bullets buffers against possible death or zombification. There’s no doubt that inventory can make your life easier. But what about the act of building inventory?

You may be the type of person who makes a lot of plans. You’ve got a to-do list for the week, a bucket list of things to do in the next four years, a casual array of friends that you plan to hang out with ASAP. Etc. This is all inventory that you’re collecting so you can extract value out of in the future.

However, there’s a difference between building inventory and using inventory. Both feel like work, but only one actually adds value to you. And even though you haven’t extracted value from those plans yet, it feels so good to prepare for the future. I’ve felt accomplished after creating a list of one-year goals and taping it onto my wall. But really, this is equivalent to producing ten batches of lightbulbs and storing them in a warehouse. The associates who worked on these batches feel very accomplished, but remember, no one has bought the lightbulbs yet!

The Downfalls

Collecting Things

Inventory creates clutter, uses additional resources to decrease clutter, and often decreases the likelihood of converting each inventory item into value:

Note: This happens in your closet all the time; the more clothes you store in your closet, the harder it is to find the black pants that make your legs look awesome, and the more unlikely it is that you’ll ever wear the denim top you bought because it was perfect for some occasion.

Waiting for Things

Time is valuable — it can be measured in money, family, friendship, personal growth, personal utility. So spending time waiting for value is the practical opposite of extracting value. With this assumption it is optimal that you move forward to identify sources of “waiting” in your life.

Say you get rid of the inventory

Say I get a reply within five seconds of sending an email. It says: Michelle, thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately you don’t have enough experience with repairing escalators. Better luck next time!

The value of this email is: you don’t have enough experience with repairing escalators. It’s not the answer I want, but it tells me exactly what I need to do.

You can see how waiting a few days for this same email reply adds zero additional value, and actually wastes your time?

Value always gives you something you didn’t have before. Therefore, get the value as fast as possible (don’t be afraid of speed) lets you move forward and do things more productively.

Every person in operations or business knows: inventory costs you. In a warehouse, it uses space and equates to a sale you haven’t made yet, and in your life, it’s value that you could be collecting interest on. If you collect too much, it gets harder to productively extract value from these entities.

So? Reduce the inventory in your life. I hope this was useful. Recommend or share if it was!

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