On Tools and Efficiency


This is not our dishwasher. (source)

When we moved into our house nine years ago, we knew the dishwasher would have to be replaced at some point. It worked, but it was loud.

Over the years, it continued to function but needed more and more attention. Nothing seriously wrong, just more routine deep cleaning. And small but manageable things started to break, most notably the top rack which would — unless you paid attention and pulled it out just right — slide out of the track and fall onto the bottom rack.

We put up with this for a long time (confession: nobody likes to wash dishes in our house) but in December, it was time to finally replace the old thing. So we did.

A few weeks with the new dishwasher, and I’ve noticed something.

We really didn’t like that old dishwasher.

We had several procedures we’d unwittingly developed to prolong the time between dishwasher runs. In hindsight, I can’t believe I never really noticed them, but now they are plain as day.

First: Paper plates. We’d use paper plates as a substitute to prolong the time between cycles. Real plates pile up between cycles (hey, I’m being honest here) because the dishwasher (you know, the one with the top rack that would fall if not handled correctly?) had clean dishes and we hadn’t had time to unload yet. Using paper plates (for kids’ breakfast and lunch, basically) makes this go away at least one meal.

Second: Too many bowls, glasses, and mugs. I’m convinced we have an overabundance of these sorts of vessels because they piled up between use. I didn’t notice it because, due to the time between cycles, all of them were almost never clean at once. Now, with a tool that actually works, we can be more efficient — and now need to ask the “what do we do with all these extras?” question.

Third: “Is it clean?” The time between dish cycles and the propensity to not want to unload the dishwasher due to possibility of the top rack crashing down means that the dishwasher effectively became specialized cabinet space. And with all those extra vessels (see item two above) there was no desperate need to unload or reload.

Fourth: Noise. The old dishwasher was loud, which meant we typically would run it when we weren’t home. No problem; except we had to remember to start it before we’d leave to go somewhere. Now, since the new dishwasher is so quiet, we can start it any time.

Now, I’m not saying I now magically love to do dishes, or to stack the dishwasher, or to unload it. These aren’t a few of my favorite things (allusion intended).

What am I saying? We had a tool (old dishwasher) and we used it to complete a task  (wash dishes). It got the job done, but it certainly wasn’t efficient. And we had all these other stopgap solutions built up (unknowingly, for the most part!) to help us put up with the non-efficient tool.

This makes me wonder what else in my life suffers from being in a similar situation. What other primary tool do I have that isn’t functioning properly? What tool do I dislike so much that I’ve built up other rituals around it to prolong the period between use?

I’m not one for resolutions. But as 2017 unfolds, my hope is to better see where I’ve built up workarounds (paper plates, more bowls, etc.) because a tool isn’t functioning as efficiently as it should be. And I’m not talking about appliances. I’m talking about my life as a Christian. I’m talking about how I approach relationships with believers and nonbelievers. I’m talking about how I learn and study. I’m talking about how I pray (or don’t). I’m talking about how I interact with my kids.

There’s gotta be other cruft built up. My prayer this year is for open eyes to begin to see it.


2 thoughts on “On Tools and Efficiency

  1. Along this line, I have found Cal Newport to be really helpful. His blog, http://calnewport.com/blog/, is on my daily reading list. He’s also written a couple of books. I have read only one (one of my 2017 resolutions is to read the rest!): Deep Work. He’s a computer scientist, and focuses on how he can be truly productive. His ideas are easily generalized. I have found them very helpful for just such a search as you talk about here.


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