Is Efficiency Really a Worthwhile Goal?

I really have a lot of things that need doing. There is the on-going, never-ending-in-perpetuity of keeping a house clean, dishes done, clothes washed and things picked up. There is the handling of basic necessities, which for me means the occasional trip to the store for food and filling the car up with gas. And then there are other things such as writing this blog!

I can usually predict how motivated I am by how long it takes me to go through my morning ritual of coffee, reading emails, scanning the headlines and looking at my calendar. Depending on what catches my eye, I can move through this efficiently and get right down to business. But when I am not motivated, inevitably, I find myself sidelined by reading articles on how to be more efficient.

Epidemic of Inefficiency

There are seemingly endless cadres of writers providing insight, suggestions, and strategies for handling what appears to be a world-wide epidemic of inefficiency!  Being cantankerous and of a mildly oppositional nature, I read these articles and fantasize about what childhood issues these authors never dealt with. Were they forced to sit at the table until they cleaned their plate?  Did they have a meltdown if their peas touched their mashed potatoes?  Are they using efficiency as a means of healing psychic wounds that arise from distress and dismay in their family of origin?

I don’t mean to sound judgmental. I do understand the joy of having a clean desk. I do internal cartwheels when my house is spic and span. And, I cannot express the elation I feel when I slip between clean sheets!  But sustaining these blissful emotional states from week to week is challenging!

I ran across a very funny meme the other day:  30 minutes for one load of wash; 60 minutes to dry. 5-7 business days to put clothes away!  This really was like having a mirror held up for me!  I am quite efficient about getting the clothes in the washing machine and dryer, but as for the folding and putting away – I get poor marks there.

Is This a Sign?

I wonder if this can be taken as some kind of sign?  Is it just that after years of doing laundry I have run out of steam around putting it all away?  Is this some stress response to the trauma of having to iron handkerchiefs, pillow cases, napkins, and shirts as a child? Confession: I can hear some disembodied voice in my head telling me the right way to iron and fold clothes!

Maybe this should be my new mindfulness practice. Instead of chop wood, carry water, might it be more mindful for me to wash-dry, fold-put away?  (I very rarely iron, although I admit to looking at myself in the mirror some days and thinking that some of my tops could do with a quick press!)

Putting the “Shoulds” Away

Or, I could just do what my mother did as she grew older. Wash the clothes and then put them in a pile on the chair and just pick through and use what you need. My mother lived with a lifetime of “shoulds”. You “should” polish the silver. You “should” iron the napkins. You “should” put away the winter clothes  and then take out the summer clothes.

I inherited these “shoulds”, but have been much more successful in ignoring them. As a matter of fact, I find I have reduced most of my “shoulds” to a bare minimum. At least until I read one of these articles on how to be more efficient!

Consequences of Efficiency

Just what are the consequences of being efficient?  What benefits accrue?  Short-term benefits seem to be time savings. So, I ask you, what are you doing with your time saved?  Are you solving climate change?  Are you creating an artistic masterpiece?  Are you inventing live-saving devices?

If we look at energy efficiency, the consequence (at least as promised) is that we will use fewer resources to keep us cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and able to breathe clean air. If we look at economic efficiency, the consequence (at least as theorized) is that we’ll achieve peak performance using the least number of inputs for the greatest number of outputs.

I have a slightly different take on these things. I think the primary consequence of efficiency is that we get something we can measure. And if we can measure it, it feels like we are in control. And feeling in control is one of those things that make most of us humanoids less anxious.  And feeling less anxious is a valuable and sought-after consequence.

Letting Go of Measuring

Another way of looking at this is to ask, “What measurable result comes from listening to a Beethoven symphony or viewing a Van Gogh or sitting by a river and listening to the water?”  Hard to measure, but undeniably a desirable outcome! True, there are ways to measure this, but I suggest you decline the invitation to follow your brain saying, “There is a drop in blood pressure and overall stress response as noted by a decrease in the neurotransmitters cortisol and adrenalin.”

Instead, just exhale, let go, release, do absolutely nothing. No proper sequence to follow, no goal to achieve, no outcome to strive for. What would that be like?  For my money, a worthwhile investment!

Benefits of Inefficiency

I am coming to appreciate the benefits of inefficiency. My tolerance for it is growing daily. Just yesterday I was walking with a friend and I just stopped and looked at a flower. We were walking for the physical benefits and stopping is obviously not an efficient way to improve my overall physical status. And while I am sure there was a drop in my cardiac output, the biggest gain for me was increased joy in my soul!

I loaded the dishwasher this morning and will get around to turning it on later today. And tomorrow, because it is part of my routine, I will do my laundry. I will change my sheets because I really, really do love that experience of slipping into a freshly made bed. Other than that, though, I don’t know that I will get anything accomplished. That’s how efficient I am!

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