Any place where time can be saved is an opportunity to make life a little smoother, and at least annual assessments of workflow should be performed to avoid just getting used to things that really should be changed.

It’s a little convoluted, but I promise I’ll bring it back around. Bear with me—we’re going to talk about dishes.

When I was a kid, there was a defined method for everything and no deviation was permitted. Even something as simple as the nightly dishes had to be done adhering to a specific process:

The dirty dishes were set to the left of the double sink because the left side was the one with the garbage disposal. The dishes were scraped and rinsed in that first sink and placed on the counter to the right, traveling from left to right.

At that point, the big rubber water-catcher was set on that far left counter, both sinks were filled with water—the right sink with soap and the left sink without—so that the dishes could be washed, rinsed, and set on the drainage board, traveling from right to left.

They were then put away, with the majority of the cupboards to the right of the sink, thus again taking the dishes from the left of the kitchen to the right.

Three trips—left to right, back, and back again.

It wasn’t until I had my own place and came back to visit that I ventured to open the conversation. If they just switched the way they did things and placed the drainage board to the right of the sink, the dishes could be dried and put away without really moving one’s feet, and it was much easier to move the dish in hand back and forth between the sinks then to establish rigid directional lines across the kitchen. Not to mention, the dishes make the journey once—start to the left of the sink, scrape into the garbage disposal, wash and rinse in the sinks, and set to the right to drain, dry and be put away. One trip.

My father was a little confused at first, but we did the dishes “my way” and he was suddenly an advocate. My mother was more hesitant because of the years she had invested in her previous ways, developing a sort of misplaced loyalty to her routine. Now that the kids are grown, my father does most of the dishes, so they do things “his way,” which was “my way,” which was really just an obvious adjustment to an overly complicated system. Sometimes it just takes fresh eyes. It probably cut a third of the time it took to do dishes. My father has to find another way to get his steps in, but those steps can be around the block and not around the kitchen.

There are things you do all the time that you’ve never really looked at because you do them all the time. That’s the whole thing—if you never ask the question, you never even discover there’s answer to be had. With the push towards mindfulness in everything, it’s not a terrible idea to take it from a spiritual to a practical place for a moment and really try to notice all the little things you do in a day. There are dumb time-wasters all over the place, we just don’t see them because the dishes have always been done that way.

At home, who cares? For some, getting those minutes back would be huge, and they might really want to do a detailed time-study of their getting-ready time or after work time to see if a simple change in the order of operations could make a difference, but for most of us, making three trips to the kitchen in the morning for one little task each isn’t inefficient, it’s waking up. Sometimes we make inefficient decisions for what we see as good reasons. Maybe it makes more sense to pick up the kids and then the prescription, but rather than take the kids in the store with you, you choose to drive back and forth, because the few extra minutes on the road would be spent pulling your hair out in the store anyway. But if they’ve put in a drive thru pharmacy since you made that choice, it may still be time to rethink that. Maybe the hassle of change isn’t worth the five extra minutes, maybe it is, but it’s worth sparing a thought.

At work, that time is money. If every staff member did 10 things in a day, and each of them could probably be done 5 minutes faster, not by making anyone work harder but by cutting out stupid middle steps, that’s almost an additional hour per person, per day, and that adds up quickly. Not to mention that wasted time is a break in the flow, and the more nonsense you can remove from it the better that flow can be.

The hardware in place is there for a reason, but that reason might have been a lack of funds to invest in technology, or making the best use of the items on hand at the time. Most commonly, the tech in place was put there when the company was smaller, the tasks were different, and projects have been added without incremental increases to tech. That eventually catches up with you and can be a real time-waster, literally leaving highly skilled artists staring at their screens with nothing to do for the equivalent of hours every week, waiting for something to render or digest. If you question not only the order of operations but the equipment those operations run on, you may find a now-obvious simplification to what had gradually become an overly-complicated process.

Whether your workflow could use a tune up in technology to keep up with your business, or your business could use a tweak to help the humans hand-off efficiently, workflow should be seriously examined at least once a year to catch work-arounds before they become procedural steps. Always question how the business could run smoother internally. Your work environment is happier when everyone feels more productive, which improves the quality of the content produced, and everybody wins.

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