Cheaper by the Elevens, Maybe


Like most people I find that I’m short on time to do all the things that I really need to have got done beforehand. At least I assume I’m like most people that way. I know I never hear people wandering around saying, “oh, if only I didn’t have so very much time then I’d finally be able to get around to learning Latin or figuring out how to paint historical markers” since they fixed the water supply. Anyway, I can’t be bothered worrying about solutions for what everybody has to do; my concern has to be figuring out what it is I’m doing, and why I’m doing it, and what historical marker has to be painted in Latin today. The goal, then, has to be getting more efficient.

One of the first points to being more efficient is finding ways to consolidate lots of little actions. You see, it takes some time to start doing anything, what with deciding whether to do it, whether it ought to be done, how it ought to be done, whether it’s worth filing paperwork for, and noticing the time to get it done has long since passed, and then getting around to doing it in a manner just late and awkward enough you feel guilty about having to do it again. If you want to do the thing a couple times over there’s all that setup and possibly clean-up work afterwards. If you don’t do the thing in separate blocks, you save considerably on the setup time.

For example, it’s generally polite to at least make eye contact with someone, but even an introvert like me might interact with people — cashiers, sales clerks assuring me they can find what I want even when I don’t want anything, people in the hallways who don’t actually live here but seem pretty confident about themselves — dozens of times a day. Far better, then, to simply make all the eye contact of the day at once, with whoever the first person I see is, and then don’t dare look at any other person until nightfall. Not only does this save preparation and recovery time but before long people aren’t expecting me to make eye contact with them at all and point out that I may stay home instead.

Another task that can be done all at once is making incomprehensible, animal-like roars at the computer because it has these bizarre ideas of how it ought to behave or thinks it’s important to interrupt my workflow to warn you there are too many icons on your desktop, or that it can’t shut down and restart because it’s too busy shutting down. If I roar at it right now for all the time in the next year I’d spend dealing with the computer’s obsession regarding unused desktop icons it’ll take over two hours solid, but your time after that my days will be my own and people will scuttle quickly past my workspace.

A similarly-spirited approach I’m not good enough to do is to make a single motion do the work of two. For example, suppose you need to eat, but you also have to wash your car, and on top of that there’s that tree in the backyard needing to be reshingled. If you can attach your Fish McDippers to a hammer, and have your meal out by the tree, swinging your arm broadly with each dab of tartar sauce so as to also hammer a nail in place that still won’t do anything for your car, but let me know if any inspiration strikes you.

If you’re really into clipboards and stopwatches a more sophisticated approach is to carefully study the motions you make while doing a thing, in the hopes of dividing them into even tinier motions, until eventually your task is divided into such tiny enough pieces of motion that they evaporate. The result is a considerable savings in time as there’s no longer anything you actually do. Sadly, thermodynamic principles require that you so subdivide and document the motions that you can’t achieve any real savings, but you can be satisfied that what was formerly fourteen motions might be shrunk down to six motions, with an extra eight abstaining and two voting “present, but not sure that a `therblig’ is a thing”. They’re wise beyond my years.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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