Last July, Tyler J. Jarvis, a math professor at BYU spoke in the weekly Devotional. I’ve never forgotten a short story he related concerning UPS Deliveries. In describing what is called “The Traveling Salesman Problem,” he said:
A traveler must visit many destinations to sell her goods or make her deliveries. Her problem is this: what route will be the fastest way to get to all the destinations? A poor choice could mean she travels many times farther than she would if she made a good choice.
Obviously this problem is important to companies like UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, Walmart, and Amazon. For example, according to Wired magazine, UPS has roughly 55,000 delivery trucks running each day. If each driver could choose a route that shaves just one mile off the daily trip, that would save the company $30 million each year.
(See Marcus Wohlsen, “The Astronomical Math Behind UPS’ New Tool to Deliver Packages Faster,” Wired, 13 June 2013; wired.com/business/2013/06/ups-astronomical-math.)
I’ve thought about these numbers many times in the last year, wondering about my own life and the choices I make. Am I traveling on the most direct path to where I want to go? Or am I being wasteful with my time and my means? I suppose I don’t always even know exactly where I’m headed or how to get there. I just know that this is something I think about a lot. I don’t want to waste my life–my time, my means, my energy, my purpose. I want to shave off the detours and distractions as I go. I’d like to get to the end of my life and look back and feeling satisfied that I traveled well.