It’s a great read, as it goes back into some of the origins of what is now something of a cottage industry on making us ever-more productive.
The article delves into the origins of time management — which goes back way more centuries than you might, at first, imagine, and moves forward to today. It also reflects on today’s workplace and the fetishizing of productivity and efficiency — a fetish often honored at the expense of happiness, job satisfaction, or just basic quality of life.
It’s true. As a stage manager and a trainer of stage managers, I knew the benefits of the “Gemba walk” before I ever heard the term. As a project manager and a producer, my bullshit threshold has ever lowered because I have to get things done. And being involved with technology means I’ve strived to bring automation and greater efficiency to no end of workplaces for the better part of two decades.
But despite that –or perhaps because of it– I don’t believe efficiency is the fundamental to maximize. I think quality is.
And sometimes, to maximize quality, you have to build in some inefficiency.
That’s all the more important as these lean concepts come from the manufacturing sector to the office. Office workers are sometimes called “knowledge workers” and the path from data to information to knowledge to wisdom isn’t like repeatedly producing a widget. More often, it’s crafting a process that allows time for the right reflection and analysis, with some controls to ensure certain questions always get asked and answered.
I’d like to think that even the gurus who pioneered this revolution in manufacturing thought this way, though perhaps they’d find all my sentences terribly inefficient.
In any case, I was reading up on Taiichi Ohno, the “father” of the Toyota Production System, “Lean manufacturing” guru, and developer of Kanban (I love Kanban Boards, by the way). Because doing all that wasn’t enough, he also attempted to distill much of his philosophy into “Ten Precepts.”
Some of it is as manic go-getter as you might expect, such as “Re-improve what was improved for further improvement.” I mean, I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I am saying it feels like I just downed two shots of espresso just by reading that sentence.
However, one of his precepts really struck me as acknowledging the purpose of efficiency and inefficiency:
Valueless motions are equal to shortening one’s life.
That’s why you want to take out the slog. You want to eliminate the mundane.
When I’m writing, I want to spend time telling a story not figuring out how to use the pen.
But I’m still going to spend hours writing and re-writing. I’m going to obsess about certain story points, perhaps ones that others would wonder why I’m taking so much time. For me, that’s still time well spent.
Doing something faster doesn’t necessarily add value. Buying a store-bought cake is certainly more efficient than making one myself. It might even be a better quality cake than what I can manage. But that isn’t the whole picture of quality.
And that seems to factor into the article above and the notions of time management being foisted upon us. The current crop of time management mavens tend to default to one simplistic equation that emphasizes a one-dimensional, non-customizable version of efficiency.
No wonder so many of us don’t register some of the time we might save using their methodology. The time we save isn’t valuable (possibly not even recognizable as time saved).
Feel free to offer other perspectives or resources in the comments.