The shortcut to nothing

Going fast is essential. What about faster? Even better! Time is money, some say. Quantifying, timing, measuring and sticking to a deadline are crucial. True: for machines. Sure, it is fun to know a shortcut to get to a destination quicker, on the computer, on the road, in a project. Increasing both productivity and efficiency sounds appealing, as long as one lives in a constant race. Admittedly, speed is exhilarating (to the adventurous minds, at least), saving time, effort or an expense often becomes a safety hazard, or simply dangerous in the long run.

For years (in my much younger ones anyway), I have acted impatiently, thinking I knew better, because “why wait if I can take a shortcut?!” assuming I had seen the same before, therefore following a procedure written ten years ago by someone not directly involved in the action was just a waste of time. Let alone, a waste of my time. How selfish, yes. It must have been my hotheadedness from then. Did I learn anything? Yes: to pick myself up each time I was stumbling over a bumpy road(block). Did it cost anything? Time, and sometimes money. Was it logistically wise? Unlikely, and I can say that in retrospect, without flinching.

Today, tackling a project looks like a new chapter I get to write. Sure, I have a sense of its core, and it is logistically reassuring: the surrounding market evolves; my clients have a different perspective on managing the details that make or break the success of a project. That is the kind of challenge that keeps me on my toes and questions certainty. So far, it has been the best lesson ever: I get to learn more diverse processes, rethink ways of making a supply chain as smooth as possible, based on the context, and intentionally forget to anticipate (a proven reason for failure).

Engineers by trade read instructions: I tend to ignore them (the instructions, not the engineers). That usually costs me some extra time, having to come back to my project and rethink its foundations. In the name of personal productivity, I have let myself believe that slow was inappropriate: I was wrong, I admit it, and the idea of controlling everything, including time for instance, is futile. Embracing the context prompts for more sustainability, and rewards, even personal. The only competition I participate to is with myself, and this discipline demands rigour, practice and … time.

Saving, stretching or salvaging time may sound tempting, and falling into a distorted perception of this non-commodity takes away the real challenge of constant discovery, learning and developing talents (and skills). Grinding into irrelevance sounds unappealing and living on borrowed time even more. Being able to bounce back, show flexibility and be willing to pause and think about all the choices available (and maybe smell the roses when possible). Shortcuts are fine: they just gamble with efficiency at times. Detours, however, are delightful to take: they influence, nourish and foster awareness, if not inspiration.