My Past Life as a Clerk
I have always been fairly obsessed with maximizing my life, I enjoy life and I would like to experience it to the fullest. Unfortunately, certain aspects such as money/jobs get in the way. For instance during high school and my first year of college I was part time clerk in a billing office and I would spend 10 – 40+ hours a week. My job consisted of scanning papers, pulling staples, entering records, and believe it or not there were actually people bad at this job. I thought to myself every day, how could I improve my productivity, how can I maximize how efficient I work. I would even change the layout of my desk to maximize the time it took me to move flip a paper, pretty lame I know.
To be honest, the time I spent there made me realize how little people attempt to maximize their abilities. For example, my first week at the billing office one large black man who worked next to me would literally complete half the amount of work I would complete in a day, even though I just started. After about a couple of weeks of me completing twice as much work as him I spent a day plotting out what he did (all while working mind you). As it happens he was not only simply slow and inefficient, he made no effort to maximize anything. He was taking extra steps to complete the same tasks as me and from time to time I swear he fell asleep. The next day I mentioned to him how he could improve his productivity and he asked me “why would I want to do that?” He explained to me how he was paid the same regardless and no matter how hard he worked he was not going to benefit. I said fair enough and moved on, to me maximizing the efficiency of a task is closer to a religion, I was getting paid to do a job and I was going to do my best.
Everything can be improved and optimized. However, the question is what to optimize for and the events with my coworker gave me an idea! Although I kept trying to optimize my work any way I could, it only takes minimal thought, if any, so I thought I should try to optimize my time by learning as well. The rest of my time at the billing office I made sure every day I would listen to a audiobook, lecture series, etc. and learn something new. I learned about physics, psychology, biology, history, listened to countless books, and even listened to famous speeches throughout history. Here are the figures:
- I would spend ~800 hours per year working there (10 hours / week for 9 months, 40+ hours / week for three months). This does not include the hour drive each, during which I also listened to the audio book and lectures.
- I worked there for two months shy of 5 years.
- Totaling 4000 hours of audio book/lecture
This does not include any of the time I spent outside of work learning, but given the average lecture series and audio book consisted of ~10 – 30 hours (a few were much greater) at 1.2x speed, which sounds pretty normal believe it or not. Meaning:
- At an average of 192 WPM (w/ 1.2x speed playback)
- Assuming an average of 200,000 words per book/lecture series, this is likely lower, but I did listen to books such as the Bible (783,137+ words), Atlas Shrugged (500,000+ words), and several large lecture series.
- I listened to the equivalent of 230.4 books
(4000 hrs * 60 min / hr) / (200 000 words / 192 words / min)
How Much Did I Maintain?
It is hard to quantify exactly how much of this I maintained. Though I would argue that because I was fully engaged and interested in the book I retained far greater than the average high schooler or college student who likely either read the book rushed or spark noted the book. Further, I learned in an extremely relaxed environment. I was not required to learn anything, I was doing it at my own pace and would kind of escape my current boring predicament at work.
Stress can effect your memory to a great extent and because I was both less stressed and interested I would argue I probably remember more about what I learned throughout this time than most people would have. There is also evidence that listening to something as opposed to reading it will improve the memory, at least in short term , though this is not conclusive. In many ways I believe this was the greatest optimization effort I could have done, and if we assume that I would have retained as much information via audiobook as I did from reading:
- I listened the equivalent of 46.08 / year novels from audiobook/lectures during this 5 year period.
- I read 82 textbooks/novels during this same time period or 16.4 / year.
- Meaning Total I read the equivalent to 62.12 textbooks/novels per year.
This is far above the norm, from PewInternet.org:
and considering I potentially retained the information at least as well or better and definitely read/listened to a large number of technical books/lectures, it is fair to say that this method of optimization was successful.
An Interesting Note
As many readers may suspect, while performing most jobs you cannot listen to recordings. However, those who do have repetitive tasks to perform usually can listen to recordings. As it happens they are often low paying jobs usually requiring little to no education. Meaning, individuals who are in the same predicament as I was would be able to improve their lives. What I find even more interesting, is that because people retain memories better when they can link them to something the more you learn the better you can remember. That being said, even if someone is uneducated and is completing a repetitive tasks, listening to audiobooks, they potentially can gain knowledge. Then if said person decides to go back to school (college) they could out perform many other students and improve their life significantly. Alternatively, their improved knowledge from recordings could help them invent something, start a restaurant or nothing. In any case, listening to recordings costs nothing, but it could have a large impact on your life, as I feel it has in mine.
Food for Thought
Here are just some of the times** I listened to audiobooks and lectures:
- Driving to work: 1600.8 hrs, 5 days a week at 48 weeks and a 40 minute drive each way.
(5 days / week) * (48 weeks / year) * (.667 hrs / way) * (2 ways) * (5 years)
- Working out: 1750 hrs, 30 minute cardio and 30 minute muscle every evening or morning for 350 days of the year, for five years.
(1 hr / day) * (350 days / year) * (5 years)
**I altered the numbers for someone who was working full time, as opposed to me who was working only part time, though the work out numbers are fairly accurate during that 5 year timeframe (I stopped working out at that pace the last couple of years).