Diminishing Returns May Be Your #1 Obstacle

When the more is not the merrier

Baqsam Behbehani
Published in
5 min readAug 12, 2021


White and orange spiral staircase
Photo by Maxime Lebrun on Unsplash

One thing you may have noticed about Amazon is how sloppy it can look. Not only is the user interface (UI) trying to sell you as much as possible, it is marred with poor grammar and spelling errors due to the lack of continuity between postings. Amazon is filled with individual sellers with bad English.

At the end of the day, money talks. Amazon is still the best at what it does, and that perhaps has to do with its avoidance of diminishing returns. If more time was spent cleaning up the layout that is already functional, there would be little improvement in the grand scheme since other areas would falter.

Diminishing returns are when you continue receiving results but smaller ones. Amazon’s UI may be at 94% right now, but taking it to 99% may take much longer than it took to reach 94%. That is why it is unwise to spend the time and resources on such a pursuit unless there really isn’t anything else to do.

To recognize whether or not diminishing returns are having a destructive effect on your life, it is worthwhile to go through common examples of diminishing returns. If none of them apply to you, such as setting up an eCommerce store, you may still be doing something similar.

Examples of Diminishing Returns

Affiliate marketing

You realize that there is a shortage of websites covering only robot vacuums. So, you decide to create a website that reviews them and then links to Amazon for a commission. It takes you a month of writing about one vacuum in the morning and constructing the UI in the evening.

Instead of launching in one month, you decide to hone the UI for literally five more months while revisiting your writing to take it to Shakespearean levels. You end up missing out on months of monetization and new releases, and you expend half of your site’s yearly bill. Even worse, you burn out.

Building products

You are passionate about building video game controllers for the handicapped, which also happens to be an untapped market in your eyes. Once you have the raw materials, it takes you about an hour to put together a controller and another hour for quality control.

A year has passed, your order queue is always full, and you can only sell as fast as you can build. Instead of considering eliminating that quality control hour during which you almost never find a flaw, you keep it as part of your regimen instead of scaling your business twofold.

Determining working hours

After years in the corporate world, you decide to become a freelancer and to discipline yourself, you set daily working hours of 6 AM to 12 PM. However, you usually find yourself losing willpower around 9 AM, but you persist for three more hours regardless.

Do you actually do work during those three hours? Yes, but it is not as good nor plenty as the first half of the session. You may be better off stopping at 9 AM and continuing later on in the day. You may even want to continue the next day and simply recharge so you have full force from 6 to 9 AM tomorrow.

Building your body

Since day one at the gym, everything clicked for you. You loved and continue to love every aspect of the gym from cardio to weights. You love the vibe, music, staff, and fellow gymgoers. Expectedly, you built a nice body, and when you ask fellow fit people what their supplement stack is, you’re shocked.

Those people eat, lift, and sleep well as you do, but your pantry is full of supplements while they stick to vitamins and occasionally creatine. For them, protein powder is the last resort instead of a staple.

Sure, you may crush them in a bodybuilding competition because you are optimized, but that isn’t even your focus. You just want to look good and feel good, and those supplements are not giving you an edge that is visible to the naked eye. Instead, you are losing tons of money on a yearly basis.

Cooking good food

Whenever you find a recipe, you find yourself buying all of the ingredients to make the dish. There is no denial that you always end up with a masterpiece, but it is also worthwhile to start with the barebone ingredients and expand from there.

For instance, a recipe may have four primary ingredients and four secondary ingredients. Try it with the primary ingredients only, and only add secondary ingredients by secondary ingredients if something feels off.

The added mouth pleasure all four secondary ingredients give is probably not worth it, especially if your grocery bill gets thicker with each visit and your taste buds become harder to satisfy.

Learning a language

You spend a few months finishing the Mandarin Chinese course on Duolingo before traveling to Beijing for infield practice. In a year, you are already conversational, and locals don’t struggle with you at all. However, you are not good enough to write poetry or scientific journals.

Instead of hopping onto Japanese, German, and the other languages you also wanted to learn, you decided to spend four more years in Beijing to master Mandarin, but you then find yourself using the same words on the street that you did four years ago, and your Mandarin poetry impresses only a few.

Maintaining social life

You have that one friend who keeps calling, and you always pick up as a chance to further bond with that friend. However, he or she may call you up to a dozen times per day, and not only would you run out of topics, there is also a bigger chance of toxicity in the conversations.

Demand often falls when the supply is high, and when the supply of your calling availability is too high, it loses its value, and your friend may think he or she can walk all over you, which includes not listening to you sincerely. It’s only one of 12 calls in the day, so it doesn’t amount to much.

Consider limiting those calls to once a day. Make the phone call condensed and focused instead of having multiple calls during which all you do is ask each other, “Are you still on the line?” Admittedly, even a call a day would still be a challenge since not enough usually happens on a daily basis to talk about.

The common trend with diminishing returns is that you are trying your best at what you’re doing, which is admirable, but it could be a major setback. It does not mean that you can’t be a perfectionist because you’ll likely have a talent in some fields in which you’ll become a master with less time than you think.

If you really want to master Mandarin, then do it consciously instead of finding yourself in Beijing five years later with limited or no knowledge of your beloved languages of Japanese and German.

While diminishing returns may seem like “the more, the merrier”, they are depriving you of other returns completely.