Purposeful Inefficiency


For some it’s a dirty word. Some people love the work they get to do. Others tolerate it. I have an uncle who has been known to say “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s a great thought. The reality is that everyone has to work in some way. Day to day living requires a certain level of effort on our part.

How do we learn to work? I don’t think we come by it naturally. I grew up in a family that worked hard … not just at the work place where there was a paycheck involved, but also in the daily tasks around house and home that always need doing. I don’t remember learning this elusive skill. I do remember my Mom informing me in a battle about cleaning my bedroom that she could do it much easier herself, but it was important that I learn how to do it!

So here we are with the other mother’s children who have not grown up in our environment of work. How do we adjust our expectations and yet continue to help them to expand their capacity. There are some things that need to get done and everyone participates. They have learned how to clean their own rooms, which includes vacuuming, dusting and washing the sheets as well as tidying their belongings. We have watched them cycle through fastidious cleanliness to chaotic disaster as they figured out how to manage having their own space and stuff. They have learned how to load the dishwasher and make their own lunches. They help out with family work days. Basic everyday tasks.

I see their resistance to these minor tasks quite regularly. They don’t really want to work at all! This was made clear again during a recent snowfall that required shoveling. As I listened to the “but I’m tired” , “Can’t we do it tomorrow” “Why do we have to do the sidewalk too?” and watched the pathetic one handed shoveling I wanted to say,

“I can do this twice as good as you

in half the time

with none of the drama!!”

(frustrated foster parent)

But the reality was that I was including them because sometimes you just have to get it done no matter how you feel. (And I had shoveled it all that morning so I wanted help the second time). Doing twenty minutes of work to shovel some snow doesn’t even begin to compare to putting in an eight hour day. Yet to him it was torturous. And to be fair the twenty minutes of work did take him forty! I would say that we have to excuse some of it because of their background but she actually works really hard at whatever she does. She still tries to avoid the work but once she begins she works! So we give grace to a teenage boy who has never had to do physical work and has a lack of fitness and coordination. I could have done it faster and better, so why ask him to do it?

Have you heard the phrase purposeful inefficiency? I’m not sure where I first heard it, but it was in relation to involving volunteers and new people in the process of getting a task done. Just because I can do something faster and better doesn’t mean I don’t have to let other people help and learn. Our culture is starting to see the consequences of not taking time to teach people to work and lead. Many organizations are suffering and closing because the same person was in charge for years and no one took the time to teach someone else to take over. Teaching an apprentice is a slow process and there are a lot of tradespeople who don’t want the bother, but the only way to learn is to stumble along and gather the experience and knowledge to get the job done. No matter how good you are at something now you had to start somewhere! Somebody gave you a chance and put up with your slowness, sloppiness and mistakes.

So we purposely choose to experience inefficiency to give others the chance to learn and grow. We are learning again how to instill the value of work and of a job well done. To anyone who would say we are just using them as a work force I laugh and would say they produce more work than they complete for us!! But that’s OK, because I value work and the outcomes it provides. I was taught that. I hope to pass it on.

In some ways the Foster system seems fraught with purposeful inefficiency. Nine months of being in care and five court dates with nothing solid for these kids yet. But it all serves the purpose of giving the other mother every possible opportunity to step up and do the work she needs to do so she can provide for her children again. It seems she is not choosing the work. It won’t be because she wasn’t given time to do it.

We have chosen to use every moment we have with them to bless them for the life they have ahead, whatever that may look like. Efficiency is not the main objective when it comes to molding and shaping people. Purposeful inefficiency on our part is setting aside our time lines and letting them learn. People are more important than just getting the job done!

In the midst of the mess,


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