(Smash that music triangle!)
I’m on this quest to be more efficient.
In case we’re not acquainted, I’m the kinda guy that goes straight to the “Self-Help” section at Barnes & Noble and reads through a few chapters while standing up in the aisle, sipping a coffee and humming a tune. As bizarre of an activity as this is, I find it to be immensely enjoyable. There’s this sense of kindredness as I read through the seeming journal entries of those who enterprise toward the elusive goal of productivity. They are these pioneers of efficiency that seem to have endless clever one-liners that line the rows of the table of contents.
But it’s one thing to read those kinds of books, and another thing completely actually try to implement the steps suggested, as I’m sure we’ve all figured out. But out of those intolerably hard to implement steps, I’ve actually succeeded in making a few work in my life, and I’d like to share those with you. As usual, the ideas aren’t exactly novel or unheard of, but I’d like to share some perspectives that you’ve perhaps not encountered before. So, consider this my own, three-point self-help book about efficiency. I mean, “book” is a loose term… it’s really just a bunch words on your electronic screen of choice. Nonetheless, let’s get efficient!
1. Increase quantity.
There’s a podcast that I listened to once that discussed in depth, the intricacies and downfalls of creativity. The guy talking is pretty much a pro at creativity, if there ever was one. I mean, there’s really no such thing, but he had a lotta good things to say. One of those things that I took away is this thought: In order to make better things, you need to make more things. Now, that can feel kindof overwhelming… cause when you think of, say, a thousand paintings or a thousand songs, or a thousand sketches, it kinda makes you not even wanna start. How could one possibly achieve something like “mastery” if that’s anywhere close to the quantifiable amount of practice that it takes to happen? Why even start?
He talks about how, “its your taste that got you in the game” — you know what good things are, and you have en eye for the beautiful. But when it comes to making those good things, your ability doesn’t match your taste, and you quit too soon because the stuff you make isn’t that good. But y’know what the remedy is to that? Make a humongous, massive quantity of work. It kinda goes along with the cliche that says, “You miss every shot that you don’t take.”
And don’t just think in terms of art — apply this to whatever is your thing. If you bake, bake a crazy amount of cakes. If you’re an athlete, shoot those hoops until you can’t miss. If you’re a barista, you practice those latte pours until you can make a rosetta blindfolded. How can you improve something that doesn’t even exist? You’ve gotta develop the habit an discipline of constantly making. If you truly wanna be great at what you do, you must increase the quantity of what you’re “making”.
2. Reduce Defects
But wait, we just talked about increasing the amount of things we do? Right. That’s increasing positive things to get a positive outcome — now we’re talking about decreasing negative things to get a positive outcome.
I was recently at a conference where I heard a guy speak who’s the CEO of a group of hotels. He had some kinda thick accent, was pretty laid back, and made a lotta jokes — but he also knew what he was talking about. He’s led his team to receive countless awards in the area of customer service, and what’s crazy is that his approach is super simple. He says that a customer wants three things: A quality product, timeliness, and kindness. It makes total sense in the context of the field he’s in, but since we don’t manage hotels… let’s talk about that first part for a second, “quality of product.”
Within the first five minutes of his talk, he threw out this absolutely ridiculous sounding statistic. He said that out of a million customer transactions, there are inevitably about fifty-six thousand defects. What?! I picture a million LEGO’s, but out of those, fifty-six thousand of them are like little puddles of misshapen colored plastic. The term “defect” in this guy’s case translates to a below average customer experience, but it’s applicable to every field: A basketball manufacturer making basketballs; A lawn service cutting grass; An olympic athlete’s practice regime; A politician’s legislation process, and a million other examples. But let’s think in terms of you and I… How many times we eat unhealthily in a week; Our consistency of exercise; The important conversations we have; The things we create; Our consistency of saving money, and etc. But, a million is a big number… so let’s make it more palatable by simplifying it.
56 / 1,000
Using the same examples in “Chapter 1”, let’s say that producing a thousand of something is your goal. Now, your practice is your product, and you’re supposedly, inevitably gonna have at least 56 “defective” products. You can’t simply just make more products, because the ratio is seemingly fixed… so how do you become more efficient? You have to lower the number of defects. Analyze your process, the step by step of exactly how you’re producing, and see what can be improved upon, changed, or removed. The goal is to get that “defects” number as low as you possibly can. That’s how you improve your art, your sport, your disciplines — by practicing and innovating, you become better. You must first increase the quantity of production, but then take the hard plunge of reducing defects in order to become more efficient.
3. Maximize minutes.
So, I love questions. There’s something freeing and growing about admitting the you don’t know something. And of course, I have a favorite question to ask people, particularly those who have a lot of life experience. Here is it: “If you could give twenty-one year old you one piece of advice, what would it be?” The answers vary from things like “finish school, y’dummy!” to things like “be nicer to the people who care about you.” But one response has made me forever rethink the way that I spend my time. This one youth pastor said, “I’d tell myself to value five minutes.”
Now, that sounds a bit romanticized or something, but here’s what he means. When you’re in between tasks, conversations, places, whatever… you likely have a few minutes that space out your life. Those minutes almost act as a buffer to the “important” things in life, giving you time to reorganize thoughts or plan what you’re gonna say at the next meeting. But that time is immensely valuable, if you give it purpose. Instead of checking Instagram for those five minutes, have a meaningful conversation with someone you’ve been meaning to talk to. Send an encouraging text to someone who means a lot to you. Take a walk outside. Listen to a good song. Write a letter. Do the things that make you feel alive.
Think of all of those things that you’ve been meaning to do, and actually do them. We’ve all wished to “have more time” to live each day, but really, it’s there for the taking… you’re just letting it slip away, one Snap, Tweet, Insta, or “I’m bored” at a time. So, there y’have it! So simple, right? It feels grueling to actually make these things into regular practices, but I promise, they’ll change your life and make you immensely more efficient. I’m no master, and there are surely thousands of “Self-Help” books that I haven’t even glanced the colorful covers of… but here’s my simply, non-glitzy guide to being more efficient as a creator, friend, and human.
I pray that in this day you take full advantage of this crazy, amazing gift called life. Each day isn’t guaranteed, and things aren’t always gonna go your way. But, you’ve been afforded the choice to make the most of every moment that you’ve got on this lovely green and blue planet. You’re capable of so much, and what you do matters, so make it happen! Seize the day in every which way, and work hard to live a life worthy of the life that Christ has freely given to you. He’s already equipped you to be awesome, so go be awesome! You’re amazing, friend. I hope you have a wonderful day, full of exuberance and aware of how loved you are. Carry on, and keep moving forward.