How do you apply optimal stopping to make a personal data-driven decision?

Optimal stopping is a decision-making strategy used to help determine the best time to make a choice, considering various factors like the number of options, available information, and the time and cost of continued searching. By applying optimal stopping, you can increase your chances of making better decisions while minimizing the time and effort spent searching for the perfect choice. 

A real-world example: Finding the perfect apartment 

Let’s say you’re searching for an apartment to rent, and you have 30 days to find one. You want to make the best decision by evaluating apartments in terms of price, location, and amenities. Optimal stopping can help you decide when to stop looking and choose the best apartment you’ve seen so far. 

Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough of how to apply optimal stopping: 

Step 1: Determine the exploration phase

In optimal stopping theory, the exploration phase is when you gather information about the available options without making any decisions. In the apartment search example, you would visit several apartments without committing to any of them. 

According to the 37% rule, you should spend about 37% of your time gathering information. In this case, with 30 days to search, you’d spend roughly 11 days (30 * 0.37 ≈ 11) visiting apartments without making any decisions. 

Step 2: Establish your criteria

Before you start your search, establish your criteria for evaluating apartments. You might consider factors such as: 

  • Monthly rent 
  • Proximity to public transportation 
  • Availability of parking 
  • Apartment size 
  • Included amenities (like a gym or pool)

Step 3: Collect data

During the 11-day exploration phase, visit as many apartments as possible and record information about each one. Keep track of the apartments you’ve seen and how they meet your criteria. You can use a simple spreadsheet to record this information. 

Step 4: Establish a baseline

Once you’ve completed your exploration phase, calculate the average or best value for each criterion based on the apartments you’ve seen. This will help you establish a baseline to compare future options. 

Step 5: Start the decision-making phase

Now that you have a baseline, you can start the decision-making phase. Continue visiting apartments, but this time, if you find an apartment that meets or exceeds your baseline in most or all criteria, consider it a strong candidate and be ready to make a decision.

Step 6: Make your decision

Once you find an apartment that meets or exceeds your baseline, take a moment to reflect on the choice. If you feel confident that this apartment is better than the others you’ve seen during the exploration phase, go ahead and make your decision to rent it. 


By applying optimal stopping, you gain a more structured approach to decision-making, which can help reduce anxiety and increase the likelihood of making a better choice. Additionally, it helps you avoid spending excessive time and effort searching for the perfect option, which may not even exist.

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