Obsessed with efficiency

20 Jun

One of my personality traits is that I have an aversion for inefficiency. If I see someone do something a certain way, and it is obvious to me that there exists an easier, more efficient way of doing it, I find it incredibly difficult to refrain from making a comment. I’m beginning to realise and accept that these comments are generally not taken very well by those who receive them, and that I can sound rather pedantic when I make them.

Here’s an example: we have a microwave oven that we use daily to warm up Joshua’s milk bottles. This oven has the usual features of such devices, but it also has a number of shortcuts. One of these shortcuts is a 30-second “quick heat” button. You push it, and straight away you get 30 seconds of microwave emissions gently poured into your milk bottle. You push it again and you get 1 minute, and so on. Now, as soon as I discovered this button, I started using it whenever it made sense to me, and I never looked back. I never (as in NEVER) dialled 3.0.Cook from the time I found this button. Why should I? Why do in 3 (noisy) presses what can be done in 1?

Fortunately for her, Anne-Marie doesn’t think like I do. She doesn’t see the big deal with pushing only one button instead of 3. Perhaps more importantly, she doesn’t enjoy being told that her button-pushing is inefficient, and that I’ve found a way to spare her the superfluous 0.4 calories she expends by doing it. She might actually start using the button later on, and she probably does it when I’m not looking!

Until recently, that behaviour of hers really annoyed me. I just couldn’t see why someone would want to do things the “hard way” when it’s so blatantly obvious that there is a “better way”. After more than ten years of marriage, I was still stuck on that issue. I had failed to apply the principle I discovered on my mission:

“When someone behaves in a way that annoys you, it’s probably a reflection of something you do that annoys you.”

What is Anne-Marie doing that annoys me? Refusing to take my superior advice when I repeatedly offer it to her. Do I do this too? You bet! Except Anne-Marie has more tact than I do, and she usually refrains from telling me how to do things in a better way. Or she simply doesn’t make a mountain out of a molehill! Perhaps, unlike me, she acknowledges that I may actually enjoy doing things in my own, idiosyncratic way, or that I derive from it certain benefits that are not apparent to her. An example might be people who decide to walk up the old-fashioned stairs instead of taking the escalators: they rarely get up any faster, but perhaps they enjoy and/or need the exercise!

So why do I have this urge to tell people how to do things more efficiently? Note that I’m not talking about correcting people’s spelling mistakes, that is a related but separate issue that is worthy of its own blog entry in the near future. I’m talking about getting annoyed when people persist doing such things as typing with 2 fingers, using only the mouse to copy-paste text from one document to another, or hand-scoring a MCMI-III manually instead of using a scoring software.

For a while I hypothesised that I had developed this habit as a result of my work as a programmer. After all, the main job of a programmer is to reduce the amount of repetitive, error-prone work humans need to do, by writing computer algorithms that take care of these tasks. Not only must these algorithms take over repetitious work, but they must do so in an efficient manner, making smart use of resources such as time and computer memory. When I’m working, every day I solve a multitude of small-to-large problems involving efficiency. I remember finding it difficult to get my mind around the basic principles of programming, in my early days. Perhaps my obsession with efficiency comes from that?

On the other hand, it’s also possible that my attraction to efficiency pre-dates and even triggered my interest for programming. I distinctly remember getting excited about the possibility of writing bits of text that could get understood and used by the computer to complete (often useless) tasks at a speed that dwarves human capacities. I think it’s quite likely that this is one of these “personality traits” that have been rather stable throughout my life, and I need to work with it.

Thankfully, another one of my personality traits is openness to new ideas. I’m becoming more open to the idea that people might like to do things their own way precisely because it’s their own way!


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5 responses to “Obsessed with efficiency

  1. morningstarrambles

    June 21, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Hahaha!!!! My mom likes to tell the family how to do things more efficiently and when she was going out of town, she even told my dad what day he should vacuum. He isn’t all that helpful around the house and I’m not sure if it’s always been that way or if he got tired of being criticized for the way he did things. (When I cook, I clean up afterwards. She likes to clean everything as she cooks. Either way it gets done, but she can’t stand the way I do it.)

    A couple years ago she asked him to move something from point A to point B. He was doing it the hard way, but he was doing it. She started ragging on him about it and then they yelled at each other. I told them, “You know this isn’t something worth fighting about. Mom, if you want it done your way, you can do it. It’s not hurting you if it takes him 2 minutes longer than it would have taken you. And you don’t have to watch him do it.”

    I offer advice on efficiency if someone is really struggling and getting frustrated. For instance, I watched my mom and my sister-in-law trying to assemble a little chair. They were trying to do it upright and it kept falling apart. Because I recently had an experience with something similar, I finally blurted out, “It will be easier if you lay it on its side.” They laughed and realized it was true.

  2. william wallace

    June 22, 2011 at 12:23 am

    Your right of course / the problem with people is they are backword thinking
    where your forward thinking // you’ve opened parts of the brain others havent.

    The best way is show how something is done get them to follow by example.

    The most common backword thinking failure comes via spiritual development.

    I don’t know if you having solved this puzzle / if not then it will be difficult for you
    to understand as you’ll still be holding a backword attitude toward the situation.

    To achieve spiritual development it a case of turning the senses inwards / thus
    one brings a unfolding of the spiritual self. Not ideas not beliefs / not an heaven
    beyond the clouds / but ones experiencing practical experience of “spiritual self”.

    I do not know if your a forward or a backword thinker in spiritual terms / but your
    having a very learning nature // if you should wish to develop spiritual experience
    via meditation// then on pc search put ( words of peace ) on the site are an large
    selection of videos // where Prem Rawat talks of meditation // the art turning ones
    senses inward thus bringing / unfolding of the spiritual self (not beliefs) knowing.

    Spiritual development is the ultimate time efficiency saver // your saving the most
    valuable thing in having // your life. Thus such the challenge // many walk the path
    yet few crack the puzzle. Thus spiritual development in main people are backword
    thinkers. Such understanding they need not seek but to turn their senses inwards
    they just can’t grasp / its just too simple for them to grasp. Alas /backward thinking.

  3. Brian Hoover

    July 5, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    I often tell Suzanne that “A button only has so-many clicks in it, so stop pressing it”. It drives me nuts. The elevator won’t come any quicker!

    • nicolasconnault

      July 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      LOL Brian, that reminds me of a blog entry you wrote a while ago, about the annoying habits of train passengers. I’ve noticed that many people, when they see a train pull into the station, hurry up to press the door-opening buttons, even if they’ve clearly seen other people push them, AND despite the obvious fact that the train is packed full of people who are waiting to get out.

      It’s like the reverse of the “bystander effect”, they must think: “If I don’t push it, no one will, and we’ll all stand there looking at each other, hoping someone has the brains to push the button!”. Annoying but very funny, I can’t help sniggering when I see people rush to that button 🙂


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