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The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 22: Efficiency in Work

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 04, 2011

For background and links to chapters in this series, see here

LESSON XXII

EFFICIENCY IN WORK

“Folks who never do any more than they get paid for, never get paid for any more than they do.” – Elbert Hubbard.

it has only been a few years since the idea of scientific management was worked out by Taylor for a number of industries. Since that time the whole fabric of American business has had so thoroughly woven into the necessity for efficiency in all of its operations that it is now considered a disgrace to conduct any industrial organization without subjecting all of its processes to the most careful study in order to eliminate every possible waste.


Kinds of Efficiency

There are a number of ways of considering efficiency in work. One is to take the individual ask the standard, and make his production the maximum, using for his assistance every device and mechanical aid possible. This maximum work of the individual would usually be sought where human labor is scarce and other things plentiful. Another way of considering efficiency is to get the greatest production from some pice of machinery, regardless of the human effort spent. This latter condition would be desired with a very rare or expensive piece of equipment where operating labor is cheap, as it is in China.

Under other conditions, the greatest production for a given time is desired, regardless of labor and equipment. The construction of the Panama Canal comes in this list, since speed in finishing the work was more desired than economy. Under this condition the efficiency of the engineer would be determined as much by the number of tons of earth removed each month as by the cost of each ton. During the world war efficiency in practically everything was measured by speed of production; costs were entirely secondary.

In agriculture a common measure of efficiency is the yield of crops to the acre of land. According to this standard, the Chinese are very efficient farmers. The more modern standard of efficiency in farming is to take the individual as the unit and strive to get the maximum labor income for each farmer rather than the greatest yield per acre. Thus, in considering efficiency, we must state what we wish to be efficient, the individual, the equipment, or the land; it is not possible to have them all at the highest efficiency at the same time. Since in this discussion we are mostly interested in the individual, we shall give special attention to the things that will give him greatest aid in doing his work. How can the young men of the Mutual Improvement Association get the most out of their lives?

Need of Efficiency

This is an age when every process is being studied in detail by scientific methods to eliminate every possible source of waste whether in human labor or in material wealth. Since competition is keen, it is important that every effort count to the utmost, because those who spend half of their energies doing things by poor methods cannot hope to compete with those who are more up-to-date.

For the good of society, it is necessary that all work be done just as effectively as possible. If a person can, by using a particular method or machine, farm twice as many acres of land, or make twice as many shoes as by doing it some other way, it is important that he select the better way, in order that he might produce more wealth for the world. It is good for the individual as well as for mankind generally to make work count for as much as possible. Generally the workman enjoys at least part of the rewards of increased production.

If a person has a fixed amount of work to do, he should devise every means possible to accomplish his task quickly and well. This will enable him to have more time for educational pursuits and for recreation. The primitive idea entertained by some people, that the doing of every task needs a certain amount of drudgery which cannot and should not be lessened, is inconsistent with modern methods of thought and the development of modern times. The whole trend of present-day education is toward economy of effort, and when this bears fruit, it is to be hoped that there will be more records of efficient lives.

Plan Time

One of the chief ways of increasing efficiency is thoroughly to plan one’s time. So many people simply work; they begin in the morning and stop at night. They have done what has presented itself rather than what might have been done had they arranged the tasks for each hour. They are slaves of their time rather than masters of it. Such people never have time to do anything; they are always busy, but the amount of real work accomplished by them is usually small. The old saying: “If you want a piece of work done quickly, choose some one to do it who already has many burdens” contains considerable truth. Such persons usually have their time well planned and they can find odd moments here and there for extra duties.

It is really remarkable how much more can be done if every minute of the day is planned in the morning, before work is begun, than if the day is spent just doing the things that present themselves. The president of one of the large American insurance companies had a clerk who did nothing but plan his superior’s time. Because the time of this official was so valuable, not a moment was to be wasted, and the clerk had every minute definitely scheduled.

Busy-bodies often complain that they do not have time to plan; they overlook the fact that it is in reality great economy to cease work long enough to make a schedule of the working hours. Such a course is particularly valuable to students. They usually do best work if they have a well-arranged plan allowing time for recreation and rest as well as for work. It is not always possible to live rigidly up to a schedule; but a plan should be considered as a flexible guide that can always be modified to take care of emergencies.

Mechanical Aids to Efficiency

Man is so much the master of the world and his time is so precious, that he should bring to his aid every possible mechanical device and implement. If he wishes to travel, he should have the means of going from place to place as rapidly as safety will permit so that valuable time will not be wasted. If he wishes to move mountains or to dig in the earth, he should have the best tools that can possibly be obtained; and if he wishes to till the earth or harvest crops, eh should have those devices that will enable him to do it in the best manner. If there is anything that will aid the man who does office work, it should be employed just as far as economy will justify.

The development of certain machinery has met much opposition on the part of the working classes who thought they would be thrown out of employment. Such a short-sighted policy might seem proper as a temporary expedient; but society cannot afford to let such a policy prevail. If work can be done better and cheaper by machine than by hand, the machine should be allowed to do it and some other kind of work found for the people. The man of the future who is wise enough to desire his life to be spent as efficiently as possible will plan his time and work thoroughly, and will use every means at his command to promote effectiveness.

SUGGESTED QUESTIONS

1. What is the meaning of scientific management?
2. Enumerate various standards used in considering efficiency.
3. How does the modern world differ from the ancient in the attitude toward efficiency?
4. What are some of the wasteful practices you know of in the industries in your neighborhood.
5. Review what you have done today and see wherein you could have saved time and energy.
6. What do you think of a regular daily schedule of time?
7. What do you think, of the idea of introducing machinery and throwing people out of work?



2 Comments »

  1. Ah… efficiency. The principle beloved to anyone who’s ever read and loved Cheaper by the Dozen.

    Comment by Researcher — October 4, 2011 @ 8:05 am

  2. My grandfather was a true efficiency expert. He started working in the printing office as a teen and eventually married the owners daughter and bought the company. He figured out all the best and most efficient ways to work there. I soon learned that he knew what he was talking about. Years later, as an old man who just came in to sweep up (we couldn’t keep him home), he would try to tell the women in the bindery how they could do better work. After he moved on, they just laughed and did their own thing again. It made me mad.

    Comment by Maurine — October 4, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

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