I have a disease. I don’t know the name, but it manifests itself as a constant desire to take less time to do repeated tasks. Call me a manic efficiency expert. Perhaps it is born from being the father of twins and someone who had to commute an hour each way to work and at one time held down three jobs. Whatever the cause, I have it bad.
I find myself always seeking efficiencies in any repetitive thing I do. I have my morning routine down to a science. From the time the alarm clock goes off to when I kiss my wife goodbye, no more than 20 minutes pass. With the advent of the iPad, I even check my email while shaving, which allows me to delete the garbage before I’ve left the bathroom in the time it takes me to shave. This is clearly a new development, but a welcome one. It makes me more efficient.
Libraries can be no less efficient than I am. We must increasingly do more with less, or take less time doing what we must. So here are some tips, from someone to whom efficiency is a focus bodering on a disease.
- Question everything. Every task we do needs to be questioned in light of its impact on the clienteles we serve. If you’re doing something that has little or no impact on your mission, why are you doing it? Just because you’ve always done it is no defense.
- Constantly seek efficiencies. Whenever I find myself doing something repeatedly, I look for ways to take less time doing it. Is there a step I can skip that won’t overly adversely affect the result? Can I do it faster? Can I do it in combination with something else?
- Consider operating in batch mode. Sometimes it is easier to be more efficient if tasks are processed in batch mode rather than one by one. That is, stack up a pile of the same sort of task until you have a batch, then process them all at once. You may find it more effective to perform all of the same kind of task at once for a group. For example, when you stamp a group of books with the library’s identification stamp, you save the time of picking up the stamp and putting it down repeatedly. This may be a trivial example, but small bits of saved time add up.
- Multitask. I still remember the days when a personal computer could only execute one program at a time. I can’t believe I survived it. Now I wait on nothing. If something is taking too much time (like, seconds), I switch to another, more responsive window. In the end, I don’t wait on anything. Neither should you.
- Anticipate your next move. Many tasks are multi-faceted and require multiple steps. If that’s the case, anticipate your next move and be ready for it. Start the next task while finishing the last.
- Slow is not equivalent to relaxed. Sometimes I think people equate slow with relaxed. The two are not the same. I can be very relaxed while being fast. In fact, often being fast requires relaxation — at least mentally. In many cases being fast requires being in the zone, which is a state of simultaneous focus and relaxation that just being slow will never achieve.
Over my life I’ve gathered a number of truisms, and one is to never, ever waste time. I don’t mean you should never spend an afternoon simply snoozing in a hammock — far from it. I simply mean every moment of your life, as much as possible, should be efficient. It will either be a moment of rest, or rejuvenation, or skill building, or getting work done, or simply connecting with another human being. But it should always be a moment that accomplishes something — whether it is personal fulfillment or saving the world.
All I know is that every one of us shares one truth — our time here on this planet is limited. If we aren’t efficient in its use, then it is not just our loss, but also the loss of those with whom we share our short sojourn on this planet. I vow to be as efficient as I can be with whatever time I have left. Luckily, I’m pretty sure I have a good start. I hope and trust that you do too.