Be (in)efficient

I think that sometimes you have to be willing to be inefficient to be efficient. Yes, I know that it sounds like some woo-woo statement from a fortune cookie, but I think there’s some truth to it.

Often in our pursuit for efficiency and productivity, we strive for the fastest way to complete a task instead of the most effective way. There’s a key difference here. Speed is just about getting from point A to point B in the shortest time possible, gaining as much ground as possible. Effectiveness, on the other hand, is the best way to complete a task, sometimes having to stop to plan or take the path less travelled.

In most rudimentary pursuits, a mind focused on being efficient works wonders. Finding the fastest way to chop carrots for a stew, taking the quickest route back home from work, figuring out the keyboard shortcuts on your Excel document. With your mind focused on getting from point A to B in the shortest time possible, you will inadvertently become highly efficient and even effective for tasks like these. However, for knowledge work or tasks that require critical thinking and the digestion of information, this mindset could be counter-productive.

Let’s say you’re learning a new skill, for instance using a video editing software. For efficiency-driven people like us, the initial phases can be excruciatingly frustrating. Everything doesn’t make sense, clicking things faster doesn’t work, there are so many bells and whistles you don’t know what to focus on. I haven’t found research for this, but I have a feeling people who label themselves as efficiency nerds would have a higher tendency to give up quicker in these situations. We want to see results, we want things to move fast, and staring at a blank movie project and figuring out what the hundreds of settings do can be exhausting, almost like swimming against a river’s current. This is where I think being “inefficient” can help us become more efficient/effective.

What feels inefficient to us might be what’s necessary to learn and to get through the painful teething stages of these worthwhile pursuits. Getting stuck with adjustment layers, understanding how dynamic trimming works with the timeline, figuring out what background rendering means. Even though it seems like the blank project we started with is still blank and we didn’t progress from point A towards point B, we are actually being extremely efficient by becoming more effective in our task, planning the best route to get there eventually. Progress might not seem like progress and we might feel disheartened. The advice I give myself sometimes is that it’s okay to be inefficient. Take it slow, take as much time as you need to figure this out. In time when you look back, you will realise how far you’ve come, and how much more capable you are now of editing videos. Or whatever task it is you are trying to accomplish.


Separately, today’s Pomodoro experiment was a disaster. I’m not used to using Pomodoro timers in the office, so adjusting to it at home was tough. I then wondered if getting a smartwatch would help me. Then I spent very long looking into smartwatches. I could write a post about my considerations for a smartwatch, but that would be for another day.

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