Does Diminishing Returns Apply to Me?

Diminishing Returns

“Work hard, stay positive, and get up early. It’s the best part of the day. “. -George Allen, Sr.

Most everyone has heard the theory of diminishing returns. If you haven’t it is the concept that there is a point in economics where any extra effort, capital, or time will be worth more than the profit or returns. From a STEM point of view think of it as all the energy going into a system is lost in the process resulting in zero gains or productions. Some people believe this theory extends to just about everything in life private or business. That argument can be a strong one but I am convinced that in the realm of personal development and career advancement it is incorrect.

Please don’t get me wrong. There is often a decline in returns in many areas where each “unit” of work returns fewer “units” of reward. An example that comes to my mind is studying for a class exam. Eventually, the extra sleep loss and repetitions lose value and have a minimal effect on the score you may receive on an exam. I often decide that the extra effort will not pay for itself and stop. Everyone is able to make decisions for when is enough, however, each hour spent studying will give better insights into the topic. Perhaps not enough to change a grade, but over time that knowledge builds. It adds insights to other topics. So yes, sleep may help you better than studying all night in certain situations, but if the next day you have free time continue to study.

My point? Well, that’s simple. Everyone loves to talk about “the grind” – a metaphor for continuing to work hard through adversity without losing hope that I will cover in the future. The part of “the grind” that hits home for me is summed up by Al Pacino’s Inch by Inch speech from Any Given Sunday (text, video). The difference between the successful and those who settle is that those who succeed will fight inch by inch for their goals. Because if I fight for an extra “inch” every day, that’s 365 inches in a year, and 3650 in a decade. For you an inch could mean reading more each day, saving more, investing more, sleeping better. At the end of each day the inches you gain is what sets you apart from everyone else, and the farther you progress, the more your competition is willing to work. How do you determine your inch? Set goals.

The biggest difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline.


  • Dreams:
    • I want a boat.
    • I would love to pay off my mortgage.
    • I want a promotion.
  • Goals:
    • By 30 I will have a boat.
    • In 25 years I will pay off my mortgage.
    • May of next year I will EARN a promotion.

My philosophy on goals may be a good topic for another day as I could go on a deep tangent regarding their importance and proper use, but for now, just focus on the clear distinction. Your daily inch is a series of smaller goals that lead you to your long-term goals, and your long-term goals should lead to your purpose/why. Example: SpaceX’s why is to further human space exploration beyond our current limits. Bill gates is striving to improve the human condition through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Your why is personal and is based on your own values, but once you know it, your goals are clearer, and setting reasonable deadlines will make it real. Each day I try to exhibit the traits that I believe are the traits of the person I want to be. Make a small and achievable list of things the person you want to be would do and work to accomplish that every day. Those are your inches.

In business, the inches may place you ahead of a competitor. In life, they may help you build a legacy. The important thing to note is that life is a marathon, and you’ll never win by skipping inches.

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