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The Curse of Having to be Efficient

Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated because something isn't happening quickly enough?

Perhaps you just missed a bus and have to wait 12 minutes for another and you berate yourself for the delay in finding your shoes that morning?  Or perhaps you welcome a visitor to your house and they spend the first 10 minutes giving every detail of the reason why they were 15 minutes late, feeling the need to justify their tardiness?  Or do you find yourself walking into a room, only to remember something you left in the last room and feeling the growing sense of frustration at your inefficiency?  Or perhaps you know the feeling of irritation at the car park being fuller than usual and having to park a hundred yards further away from the entrance?

These are variations of common frustrations many of us feel on a daily basis.  The frustration is worse when stress levels are high.  Today's living makes us want to do the best we can, as quickly as possible, and expending the minimal amount of energy required.  We are being forced towards constant efficiency.

The problem is, as we hear the cracking whip on one side, we hear the laments of health professionals on the other.  We are not exercising enough (yet we constantly rush everywhere).  We are not relaxing enough (yet we are fighting constant distractions, such as social media).  We are not being mindful (yet we are told of the importance of planning, making goals, and achieving).

Of course, efficiency has an important place in the world.  Businesses need to work efficiently.  The National Health Service needs to make efficient use of precious resources.  Systems can be improved and reviewed to avoid unnecessary wastage.

Yet the advantages of careful use of resources can easily be lost with the curse of efficiency spreading into other areas of our lives.  Rather than use the 12 minutes at the bus stop to beat ourselves up, why don't we instead enjoy the precious few moments to reflect, admire the sunrise, think about an upcoming meeting or chat to a neighbour?  Instead of wasting a further 10 minutes excusing a 15-minute delay, what if we focused on the appreciation of having friends and family make time to come and visit?  What if we just walked between rooms, appreciating the fact that we live too sedentary a life and that movement is good for our health?  Why not deliberately park further away so that you get that bit more exercise and also to leave spaces for people with mobility issues of health problems that really need the space closer to the entrance?

We have one life to live on this earth.  This awareness of our own mortality can push us towards a sense of panic that we need to squeeze out every possible best outcome and not waste time.  However, perhaps a healthier attitude would be to make a decision to pause more and enjoy the only time we have, the present moment.  Efficiency has its place and it is important not to be wasteful of precious resources, especially for those of us who have so much while so many in our world have so little.  However, our health, happiness, and well-being will improve if we learn to relax this drive when it is not necessary.  Ironically, this increase in well-being will actually help us work more productively when we need to.  By standing up to the efficiency slave driver living in our own minds, we can enjoy our lives and the company of others so much more.  Many people come to our private practice suffering from the effects of stress and burnout.  Years of burning the candle at both ends, constant drive and pressure and never allowing time to enjoy the journey takes its toll.

Perhaps your New Year resolution this year could be to do less, rather than try to do more in an already full life?  Enjoy the moments, appreciate the unforeseen delays, prioritise activity and exercise over maximum efficiency.  Learn to love occasional inefficiency.

Article inefficiently written by David Craigie, Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Craigie Partnership


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