An Efficiency Problem

This is my morning routine on weekends:

Fill the kettle and plug it in. Clean the French press. Grind the beans, add to press. While waiting patiently for the water to boil, retrieve cream and sugar. Add boiling water to press. Set timer for 5 minutes, then sit quietly and relax until the magical beep that tells me the coffee is ready. Pour and doctor the coffee, and enjoy.

Um…okay. Above is what I like to THINK my weekend routine will be one day. Just focus on that one task – making a delicious cup of coffee – and let everything else go for a little while. In reality, it looks very different.

Fill the kettle, and take apart the French press while it fills. Pour off the extra water that threatens to overflow the kettle, slide the press under the faucet while reaching blindly to turn the kettle on. Clean the press, then check emails on my phone while forgetting how many scoops of beans have gone into the grinder. Start the process over while muttering at my inability to count to three. Grind beans, add water. Feed the cats, then try to figure out how much time has passed since I forgot to set the timer. Do a few dishes to catch up on the backlog in the sink. Impatiently press the plunger down a bit too fast, leading to a minor spill, then wipe down the counter with a sponge while adding the cream and sugar to my cup.

Ahh. Sounds relaxing, doesn’t it?

I admit it, I have a love of multitasking. I attempt to do many, many things at the same time, and in fairness, I am usually fairly successful at it. I can manage several projects at work without too much difficulty, and my personal life, while often rather full, doesn’t fall into disarray too often. While it’s easy to laugh at the difference between my “ideal” routine and the real one, ultimately the coffee DOES get made, and that’s the point of the exercise, right?

Well…maybe. And maybe not. Let’s come back to the coffee in a little bit, shall we? For now, a diversion.

Something I loved best about being involved with Diana’s Grove Mystery School as a community member and later a member of staff was the work. I don’t mean The Work, but the work. At each event I attended, there were tasks that were taken on by the community in small groups. None of these were terribly challenging – we’re taking about setting up for meals, cleaning up afterwards, assisting with ritual setup, that sort of thing. I enjoyed this because I like to help out with work that’s needed, and doing the dinner dishes alongside someone I haven’t met before is a pretty good way of getting to know them.

It wasn’t always that way, though. At first I struggled quite a bit with this, because I saw a giant pile of dishes, a bunch of leftovers that needed to be put away and labeled, and a few other tasks, and immediately began thinking about the most efficient way of getting that done. If I grab an extra bin from the kitchen, I can put all of the salad dressing containers in that while also balancing the first bin with the rice and salad toppings in my other hand. Voila! One less trip up the stairs for someone else, and we’ll get done with this faster!

Except that faster wasn’t really the point. Efficiency wasn’t really the point. Heck – beyond the point of basic hygiene and cleanliness, washing the dishes wasn’t really the point. The point was the conversation over the dishes. The laughter over the age-old question, “Wouldn’t it just be better if we split that last brownie rather than wrapping it up for tomorrow?” The point of the task wasn’t the task. If it had been, we would have approached it very differently. This only had to be explained to me 3 or 4 times before it sank in (This is where I point out that I am not always very smart). It was a good lesson to learn, even if it did take a few repetitions before I grasped it.

Now, what about that coffee that I’ll make on Saturday? Is the point of the coffee the coffee, or is it something else? When I look at my “ideal” and “realistic” rituals, I realize that my efficient approach misses something rather important: The “Sit quietly and relax” bit gets muscled out by feeding the cats, checking my email, and washing dishes. If the point of making the coffee was just to have coffee, I’d set up my coffeemaker the night before, the way I do during the work week. That would be more efficient, after all, but I don’t want to do it that way on the weekends. So if the point of the coffee isn’t the coffee, I need to approach it differently.

I have to wonder how many other tasks are really about something other than the task itself, and how often my quest for efficiency is missing the point entirely. I’ll have to give that some thought while I post this blog entry, sip my coffee, and start planning my morning meetings at the office.

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