Walk away if it’s not worth it: the real first step to getting it done

April 6, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

Give Up image

The concept of “sunk cost” is often lost outside of economics–but if we dropped more things from our lives we’d be happier and more productive with our time.

Sunk cost: When one makes a hopeless investment, one sometimes reasons: I can’t stop now, otherwise what I’ve invested so far will be lost. This is true, of course, but irrelevant to whether one should continue to invest in the project. Everything one has invested is lost regardless. If there is no hope for success in the future from the investment, then the fact that one has already lost a bundle should lead one to the conclusion that the rational thing to do is to withdraw from the project.

Skeptic’s Dictionary

Whether it be a friendship, a job, a book, or a college degree…it’s not always “the right thing” to maintain, continue, or complete.  Sometimes the best decision is to stop and find something else. (or just relax)

Clay Collins of The Growing Life argues this much more adeptly in his recent article, Quitting Things and Flakiness: The #1 Productivity Anti-Hack.  He explains:

OK, we all know that there are some things we have to do to avoid imprisonment and being horrible human beings.  We have to pay taxes, we have to take care of our children (hopefully this is a joy), etc.  The problem is that most people are very bad at differentiating between these very real non-negotiables and fictional non-negotiables.

That is, there are things we can and can’t drop–but we’re horrible at figuring out which is which.  Take a second and think about…

  • What are your commitments at work?
  • Who do you spend your free time with?
  • Are there activities you’ve been involved with for a long time?

Now consider whether you’re still enjoying these…

  • Do you already have a lot on your plate at work?
  • Are there people who drain your energy with their negativity or dependence?
  • Have you been practicing something for a while but still don’t enjoy it?

If you’re not enjoying an activity or are over-committed, what’s the consequence of stopping?  Of being honest with your boss or yourself?  Tim Ferriss spends a lot of time in The 4-Hour Workweek explaining how the worst case scenario is rarely that bad.


With the time you’d gain, you would be both happier and more productive.  You’d be able to spend time on your passion.  If you want a heck of a lot more motivation and clear thinking, I highly recommend that you read and subscribe to The Growing Life–you can find the entry to which my article was a response here.

Anything you’ve dropped from your life lately?  Has it helped?

Photo credits: bk2204 and Kiwi-Wings

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9 Responses to “Walk away if it’s not worth it: the real first step to getting it done”

3 Trackbacks

  1. Technotheory.com – The internet is no book–how to find The End online
  2. Technotheory.com – Why don’t you just GO HOME?
  3. Technotheory.com – How do you limit your time in front of a computer? Apparently, many ways


  1. Tom Stine

    Hey Jared,

    Sunk cost!! An old friend of mine taught me about sunk costs when we were freshmen in college and he was studying econ. That was one of the best things anyone ever taught me.

    Nice post. Saw your comment at Clay’s site.

  2. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks, Tom. Clay has such great readers! Glad to hear you enjoyed the read…and I can’t agree more that our lives would be easier if we applied the sunk cost theory more often.

  3. Allen Taylor

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

  4. Clay Collins | The Growing Life

    Sunk cost: my grandfather used to call this “throwing good money after bad.”

    Great post, by the way. Completely weird how we generated very similar posts at almost the same time. Must be in the zeitgeist.

  5. Clay Collins | The Growing Life

    P.S. You’re right, I do have great readers!

  6. SoftwareSweatshop

    I own a software development firm in Chicago that I started in college. For the longest time I was investing in other money making ventures to no avail. Early last year, I decided to give up on everything else and re-focus on my software business.

    The results have been good. I’m making more money in less time and am much happier.

    Raza Imam

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