Feb 28, 2012

Short Cuts That Aren't

I have a silly problem.
I tend to try and do too many physical things at once for maximum efficiency and end up coming a cropper.
I do this time and time again even though I am aware of the likely effect.
This is because every now and then it comes off and I get to high-five myself for my brilliance.

I am not sure whether this is a side-effect of having been mega busy working a demanding job full-time while raising kids, or whether it's just a personality flaw I have. I can't remember to what extent I did this before having kids.

I am getting out the butter from the fridge to make the sandwiches for the kids' lunches. I know I also need the cheese and the grapes from the same fridge, and it would be so terribly inefficient to have to come back. So I get the butter, then balance the jam jar on top of the butter tub, and with my "free" hand I carry the grapes.

Not so illogical, right? You do this too, I am sure.

Except I am always pushing the limits of what can usefully be achieved and trying to carry too much. Inevitably one or more things drop from my hands and I let out a howl of frustration at the unfairness of it all. It's not fair! I was being efficient! Now I have to pick up/clean up this stuff that I have no time to do!!!

Example 2:
My bench space is full with different stages of cooking, and I decide to unpack the dishwasher. I need dinner plates for dinner, and there are dinner plates coming out of the dishwasher. Goodness, it would be so inefficient to put those away and then get them out again when dinner's ready! So I take out 4 dinner plates to put them on the bench.
The bench is a little full. It would be so inefficient to put down those plates and then clear the bench and then pick up the plates again to move them back to the bench! So I balance the four stacked plates on the little T-bar created by the divider of the two sinks, while I clear some bench space; THEN I retrieve the plates and move them to the bench.
I know full well that that area where I balance the plates is precarious, because I have dropped other things I've balanced there while "efficiently" doing multiple things.
But it is "efficient" because it's next to the bench and at the same level, so I don't need to bend over or turn around to put the plates down somewhere.

Example 3:
I am doing laundry. I want to walk to the laundry to the get the wet clothes out of the washing machine, to walk them outside to the clothes line. But I spy a basket of clothes that has to be folded and put away. Well, why would I do these as two seperate tasks, when I could save time by using the same basket for both? Obviously! So all I have to do is pick up the basket of clothes, fold and sort the clothes on the table and then carry them to their correct bedroom drawers, then carry the basket to the laundry to fetch the wet clothes. Genius!

Except as I start this task I see the basket also contains towels that have to be put away in the laundry.
Hmm. Obviously, I don't want to be inefficient and walk the towels to the laundry, walk the other stuff to the berdooms and then come back to the laundry. I mean obviously. So I have to take the clothes to the bedrooms first, then the towels to the laundry as my last stop, from which point I will be able to use the basket to collect the wet clothes.

Hmm. Two of the bedrooms are past the laundry.
It hardly seems efficient to walk past the laundry to go to the bedrooms and then back again! But the other bedroom is on the other side of the house.

I am momentarily stuck with indecision. I consider what order to complete things in using the one basket, or whether it makes more sense to divide the task in two and use a second basket, involving an extra stop at the laundry.

Finally I decide to fold and sort the clothes and towels, place the towels in the basket and kids' clothes on top, walk parents' clothes to bedroom 1, come back to the table to collect the basket, walk it to the laundry and leave the basket on the floor outside the laundry, pick up the two bundles of kids' clothes and take them to the kids' bedrooms in my arms, leaving the basket and towels outside the laundry.

So I do this, but while carrying the clothes in my hands naturally I drop a couple and have to come back and get them (on my way back of course - no sense backtracking!)

All this feels (because it is) silly and cumbersome during the first tasks, but I get to feel "efficient" on the last task, carrying the basket to the laundry filled only with items for the laundry, then using the same basket to collect the new washing. Genius!

I do not have OCD. My bedroom is a mess. I use different colour pegs on the same garments on the washing line. I don't care (too much) about matching pillow slips, bedsheets and quilt covers. I don't line up anything, nor wash or check anything multiple times.

I am just obsessed with saving time, and the mantra to "work smarter not harder." Even though, through using all these weird false short cuts, I am neither working smarter nor saving any time.

Take your time
Image by ZeroOne via Flickr CC

Awhile ago I came across a fascinating article all about the Efficiency Movement in early 20th century America. I think its proponents were probably prone to the same everyday obsessions as mine.  They promoted "economy of movement", from the industrial to the personal scale. They used stopwatches to time tasks, and they measured body movements and steps taken to complete them. They "taught" factory workers and labourers how to perform their tasks "more efficiently" - i.e., in fewer movements.
One can imagine the bemusement or annoyance with which the workers who did their jobs day in and day out - and had no doubt worked out the best way to do them all by themselves - regarded these sessions.
Because of course, fewer movements or even less time does not always mean "efficiency". Sometimes it makes much more sense to do one thing at a time.

Is anyone else burdened by this madness? Or just me?


  1. Jackie, I found myself nodding in agreement while reading this post. My best mate Jill once said that she's noticed that women will walk through the front door of their house and inevitably pick up stray stuff and put it in their right place as they make their journey.

    Men just walk through to the destination.

  2. Hi Jackie,

    Me too! For example, trying to lift in all the shopping at once so that I don't have to go back out to the car. Even as I am struggling with the load, a voice says "you're a bloody fool!!" - and that voice is right.




    1. I do that too PM! And I try not to have to put the groceries down so I can shut the car boot, so I end up heaving them all up in the air and trying to grab and pull down the boot with hands full of shopping bags...

  3. I totally do that! I'm always trying to figure out how to save a trip or do something fast... and sometimes in the process I make a big mess!

    1. Oh I'm so glad to hear this is not just me!
      I make a bit of mess trying to carry everything from the dinner table to the kitchen in one go - I can't believe in fact how often I keep doing this!



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