Efficiency can be Fun

Late last year I began thinking about 2 books from my childhood a lot.  So much so I decided I needed to pick them up and reread them.  I remembered them as being full of fun high jinx, which might be q given considering it’s about a family with 12 children.  Yes, you read that right, 12 children (no multiple births and all but 1 lived to adulthood) – and we might cringe at our one or two kids. My memories were accurate, yet it was not these escapades of family life that specifically caught my attention this time through.  Really, if it were just a fun read would I ask you to read my writing about it?

It turns out that the parents, Lillian and Frank Sr. Gilbreth, are motion study experts.  Frank (although there is a Jr. I will be talking only about the Sr.) applies his theories and beliefs about efficiency to the whole family.  Lillian was a psychologist as well, so their focus was on not just saving time and energy, it was about cooperation. An example of this was how surgeries were studied and simplified – doctors asking for the implements they needed and having them handed to them.  I took this for granted; yet when the Gilbreth’s were working it was the early 1900’s.

They applied these same ideas to learning, creating different ways to learn – from Morse code being written on walls in the summer home which sometimes gave locations of surprises, to developing how to touch type, to listening to Spanish and French lessons while you were getting ready in the morning and at night – all to increase efficiency.

I’ve talked about efficiency before – I am continually looking at how I do things, asking myself if there is a “better” way.  I do this when I wash dishes, in fully utilizing how I fill the dish rack, keeping both the loading and the unloading in mind.  When I mow the lawn, I consider whether there are other approaches to it, there are 5 different areas with certain obstacles.  Although I think some people can get carried away with shaving off a few seconds or minutes here or there, I am fascinated with the idea of efficiency from the standpoint of simplifying things.

You might not be interested in thinking that much about your own efficiency.  I do not think you need to be.  Yet, for me the idea of efficiency is wrapped up in simplifying. With much of what I talk about, I encourage you to find ways to make organizing easier.  If something is too difficult, there’s a strong chance we won’t do it, even with the best of intentions. If the steps required to put this away are too many or too complicated or convoluted, that thing will not get put away.  If we can find a way to make it easier, we’re more likely to fulfill our intentions.  In many ways this is exactly what the Gilbreth’s focus was on – reducing the number of steps and complication of accomplishing this or that while not ignoring the human aspect of any of it.  They focused on reducing the amount of motions involved not on just speeding things up, although reducing motions did decrease the amount of time needed to complete an action.

Maybe today’s world is not that different from those of decades ago – maybe it is.  Regardless, as humans we all have limited time and energy to do all that we might want and need to do.  If you find ways to save time and also energy from doing it in the easiest way, you have that much more time and energy for what matters most to you.  When someone asked him, “But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?”  Frank responded with,

“For work, if you love that best. For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure.  For mumblety-peg, if that’s where your heart lies.”


* The first book deals more with efficiency, Cheaper by the Dozen (not to be confused with the movies).  The second book deals more with running a home and being as economical as possible, Belles on Their Toes.  Both books are authored by 2 of the children – Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

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