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We all know that "a stitch in time saves nine" and "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", but sometimes the opposite is true. A stitch before its time is a waste of time and thread. If you wash your car right before you go off-roading, you're basically throwing soap away.

I've heard the phrase "you ain't gonna need it" in software development circles related to this sort of situation, but I'm looking for a more mainstream idiom, proverb, or cliché, if there is one.

The situation would be someone who is expending a lot of time or resources on something that might in some situations be a good investment, or even seems like a good investment at the time, but ultimately it doesn't pay off.

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5 Answers 5

In software developer circles gold plating refers to putting effort into a feature or product when it's no longer adding value. Wikipedia has a short article on this.

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Wild goose chase

Someone going on a wild goose chase spends a lot of time on a futile pursuit.

Wiktionary also suggests merry dance.

  • A useless waste of time resulting from a deception.

The children led us on a merry dance with their stories of strangers and shadows in the night.

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One might say “Don't overcomplicate this”, or “Don't overthink this”, where overcomplicate is a verb meaning “To make something excessively complicated” and overthink is a verb meaning “To think or analyze too much”. Wiktionary gives the following example:

Don't overthink the problem. It's not that difficult.

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"Gilding the Lily" is close - trying to improve on something already beautiful. It doesn't really address the time wasting aspect.

"Don't make a mountain out of a molehill" is a phrase for overcomplication or exaggerating is key.

"Wearing both Belt and Suspenders" is one that fits the "being too cautious"

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People can get caught up in "Analysis Paralysis" - i.e., spending an unreasonable amount of time and effort trying to perfect their approach/solution, often before taking any material action, such that (from an outsider's perspective) they are too far into the area of diminishing returns.

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