The Big Cost of Small Decisions

Business man at a laptop contemplating a decision

I’m a big fan of audiobooks. As a full-time working mom, I rarely have time to invest in activities that are just for me, so listening to books instead of reading them provides an on-the-go hobby that is educational and rewarding. I typically listen for 15 minutes in the morning while getting dressed for work, in the car during rush-hour traffic, or during those rare times when I take a few minutes to fold laundry or do the dishes. However, these small, fleeting windows of time during the past few years have accumulated into big accomplishments. Since my son was born almost three years ago, I’ve listened to about 25 audiobooks — each one ranging anywhere from five to 13 hours of recording — in addition to a handful of podcast series. This year alone, I’ve already put in more than 80 hours of listening time. For a person who doesn’t have much free time, I’ve certainly found a way to make the most of it. The point? Individual baby steps can unexpectedly reap big rewards.

The Accrual

In his book “Atomic Habits,” author James Clear talks about the impact of repeatedly making the same small decision during an extended period of time. He compares it to the concept of compound interest, and how small accruals of money can exponentially increase, ultimately leaving the proprietor with a rather large sum. “At first, these tiny routines seem insignificant,” Clear writes, “but soon they build on each other and fuel bigger wins that multiply to a degree that far outweighs the cost of their initial investment.”

The Inverse

Unfortunately, the inverse of this concept is also true. Imagine applying Clear’s concept toward your facility’s maintenance budget, making small cuts here or there that may not seem that significant at first. Skip your HVAC or water heater maintenance one time to help save on short-term costs in the fiscal year, and the impact may be invisible. But make a habit of skipping routine inspections to save on operating costs, and the outcome may be both detrimental and irreversible. “A single decision is easy to dismiss,” Clear says in his book. “But when we repeat 1 percent errors, day after day, by replicating poor decisions, duplicating tiny mistakes, and rationalizing little excuses, our small choices compound into toxic results. It’s the accumulation of many missteps—a 1 percent decline here and there—that eventually leads to a problem.” This month’s issue of CMM focuses on the importance of avoiding those tiny budget decisions that can ruin the integrity of a facility. Turn to page 20 for our cover story, “Prioritizing Building Investments,” to learn more.

Kelly Zimmerman

Kelly Zimmerman

Managing Editor, CMM

Kelly Zimmerman is the managing editor of Cleaning & Maintenance Management. She has experience managing industry-specific content for print and digital formats. She holds a master of science in journalism from Northwestern University. Kelly can be reached at

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