Commentary – Efficiency isn’t everything

Pearl Lorentzen

The book Cheaper by the Dozen is about a husband and wife who were efficiency experts in the early 1900s and had 12 kids. The narrator is one of the kids remembering their childhood.

In the book, the family goes to their maternal grandparents. The mom comes back from visiting family friends, in record time. She tells her mom how efficiently she handled all the meetings.

The grandmother says she might have been too efficient.

The narrator is shocked. One, because being efficient is the best compliment at home, and, two, because her mother reacts like a scolded child.

With many people working from home or trying to get things done in a stressful environment, efficiency and productivity are a common topic. This is especially difficult for people who are also helping their children with at home learning.

As someone who was homeschooled for most of my education, I can see how this must be very difficult.

As a writer, productivity and efficiency aren’t always attainable. There are articles, stories and poems, which cannot be reached in an efficient manner. Focusing too much on an equal word count per day is counter productive. On the flipside, deadlines are one of the best ways to ensure writing happens.

There are times when other aspects of life pile up. Sometimes when I’m busy, I write more because I know that the only time to write is the time scraped out of the cracks between other projects. When I have loads of time, sometimes I get nothing done.

While being busy can be efficient, it isn’t sustainable. It takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll.

The act of writing is solitary. Like any solitary activity it is dependent on the force of will of the writer.

Edmonton novelist and business writer Todd Babiak wrote a blog ‘Six career lessons from the otherwise heartbreaking endeavour of novel writing.’ One of the points was that it is incredibly easy to procrastinate. He knew lots of people at university who wanted to write a novel, but he’s one of the only ones who did. Overcoming this procrastination is an important life skill.

Procrastination is the enemy of efficiency and productivity. This is not to be confused with thinking or meditation.

In my first year of university, I wrote a manifesto called ‘Writing is words imprisoned on paper.’ A poet friend recently posted something similar on Facebook.

Like many creative activities, writing is not just the physical act of sitting down to put pen to paper. Life experiences congeal in that moment. Without the time to sit down and write, writing never happens, but without those seemingly wasted moments of walking, gardening, talking to people, cleaning the bathroom, etc. there is nothing to write about.

I often think the hardest thing in life is balance.

At times, I need someone like the grandmother in Cheaper by the Dozen to remind me that some actions can be too efficient. At the same time, finding the most efficient and productive use of my time is necessary.

Constant productivity and efficiency aren’t possible for any human, so be kind to one another and yourself. Give yourself and others time and space. There is always tomorrow, unless the deadline is today.

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