when being more efficient may not be better

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We are always looking for efficiency, aren't we?

Trying to go faster, get more done in less time, take fewer steps to accomplish a task.


It has been drummed into our heads since we were little. We must be more efficient. Well, I am not so sure that is always the case.

A couple of examples have come to mind this week from real life experiences that have made me realize that being less efficient can sometimes be better--or at least have some important offsets.

Example one: My new "Fitbit"

I have been wanting one of these trackers for a long time. A step-up from a traditional pedometer, this device can be worn continuously and is able to wirelessly sync with your computer to track number of steps per day, calories burned, etc. Then as a user you can go online and enter things like what you ate for breakfast, other kinds of activities, and so on. If you wear it during sleep, it can tell you how efficient your sleep was, and how often you were restless or awakened during the night.

So I ordered one from Amazon, and started to use it last Monday after I got home from work. I discovered that it has already helped me to change some of my thoughts and habits. Instead of standing next to my keurig while my morning coffee brews, I have been seeing how many steps I can take in the 45 seconds it takes to make a cup of coffeee. In addition, instead of reprimanding myself when I forgot to bring something to my car and needed to go back for it on Tuesday morning, I realized this was helping me to log more steps, burn more calories, and maybe stay just a little bit more fit than I would if I were very efficient and never forgot anything.


Example Two: Airline Travel

One can argue that traveling by air is never efficient. But this week I had to attend a meeting in Chicago. When preparing to fly home, folks were asking me how I could tolerate the fact that most of the time I am not able to fly direct from one city to another due to my destination of Roanoke. I thought about that  and realized that although when I first moved here I found that to be distressing, I have now realized that it, too, has its benefits. By nearly always having to fly at least two legs for every flight I take, I have been able to achieve a higher level of frequent flier than I would have been able to do otherwise. Since I get credit for the number of "segments" and those accumulate for me faster than do the miles, I have been able to be upgraded to first class more often, and am generally treated better when I fly than I would be if my frequent flier status were dependent only upon the number of miles flown.

Of course, flying in segments also affords me the opportunity to run through more airports trying to get rapidly from one flight to another, which then increases the number of steps as well as minutes of intense activity, which brings me more efficiently toward my goal.


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Some may say I am just being overly positive about a negative situation. That may be partially true, since I so much enjoy being happy about something than sad or frustrated with it. But truly I think it is important to look at ALL of one's goals and realize that sometimes one (being efficient) might interfere with another (logging more steps, or reaching a higher level of frequent flier benefits).

So, what do YOU think?

Am I full of hot air? Do you have any examples you would like to share of this phenomenon if you have seen it in your own life?

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About Dr. Ackerman

Alice Ackerman, MD, MBA, FAAP, FCCM is the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Carilion Clinic and Professor and Founding Chair of Pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Dr. Ackerman is recognized nationally as an expert in pediatric critical care.

She has been at Carilion Clinic since June of 2007. Her primary goals are to enhance the health care of children in the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia, and is actively working to do this both as physician in chief of the children's hospital, as well as through involvement with many state-wide initiatives.

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