A little bit of knowledge, as they say, can be a dangerous thing. Or, in my case, dangerous to one’s marriage.
First, some background: when I was in college, one of the first classes I took was Economics 101. And in that class, one of the first concepts we learned was something called “comparative advantage.”
If you’re not familiar with the idea, comparative advantage states that we should each specialize in doing what we do best, and not waste our time doing anything else. For example, if I’m a great carpenter, and you’re a great car mechanic, then I should do all of your construction projects, and you should do all of my auto repairs, and nothing else.
It is this concept that has over the years caused me a lot of grief. Or, to be fair, caused my wife a lot of grief.
I confess that it is because I really enjoy mowing the lawn at my house. And my wife really enjoys doing the laundry. Economics 101, of course, tells us that we are both wasting our time. And, in fact, we each give each other a hard time about the other’s activity. I wish she wouldn’t break her back hauling dirty clothes, and she wishes I wouldn’t spend an hour every Sunday morning hunched over the lawnmower.
And yet, we each persist with our respective activities.
Recently, however, I learned an interesting piece of trivia that, I think, helps explain all this: It turns out that Bill Gates — the wealthiest person in America — likes doing the dishes at his house, and in fact does the dishes every night. Presumably, he has more important things he could be doing, but in an interview he stated that he really likes doing the dishes himself, even when other family members volunteer.
Perhaps not surprisingly, academic studies have examined this question and have proven scientifically that mundane activities like this have all sorts of positive effects, including lower stress and greater creative output.
What does this mean for you and your personal finances? The lesson, I think, is clear: Counter-intuitive as it may seem, taking a little time away from work, even when your to-do list is at its longest, may actually help you get more done. And, spending some time in the evening doing the dishes (or the laundry), instead of hiring someone to do it for you, may spark a great idea that makes you shine at the office the next day.
So, with apologies to my Economics 101 professor, I look forward to shelving the idea of comparative advantage for a while, and suggest that you do too.
If you’d like to learn more, the New York Times recently ran a great article on this topic: https://nyti.ms/2pw0Fv3