What Can We Learn From Axle Assembly Line?

I think Henry Ford was on to something. Ford, as history has taught us, was the inventor of the Model T, the first mass produced automobile. Mass production, and the T's low price tag, wouldn't have been possible without Ford's use of the axle assembly line. The truth is,

 

I think Henry Ford was on to something. Ford, as history has taught us, was the inventor of the Model T, the first mass produced automobile. Mass production, and the T's low price tag, wouldn't have been possible without Ford's use of the axle assembly line. The truth is, the assembly line predated Ford, but he was the first person to apply it to a massive production scale for automobiles. Traditionally, workers moved down a production line to complete a task. Ford, on the other hand, had the workers remain in place, and the parts move down the line.

This seemingly insignificant alteration yielded large increases in productivity. It allowed Ford Motor Company to make 15 million Model-T’s in the span of 14 years, also, at half the cost. With many more middle and lower income people being able to afford a car, the world got a whole lot bigger. Highway transportation systems were established, commerce flourished, and society was changed forever.

History lesson aside, I've thought a lot about assembly lines lately, as it relates to how I complete various tasks in my home and office. I first noticed in a passive way that when I did tasks in an assembly line manner that I was able to accomplish them with more accuracy and speed. Saving time and yielding a better result? What is not to like about that? The only downside to assembly line style task work is tedium. When a large project requires repeat actions in a stage of work, things can get boring! The temptation is to want to switch gears and do something else, or skip ahead. Do anything to break up the monotony.

Say, for example, I’ve had a bumper crop of tomatoes in my garden, and I want to make batches of marinara for future use. The inclination is to make a jar at a time, completing each step to make it, only for that one jar. So I’d skin, cook, strain, season, etc, enough for one jar. Then, when completed, move onto the next. But if using an assembly line method, you would peel ALL tomatoes at once, then, boil them all at once, then season them all at once… you see where I am going with this, right?

The efficiency comes from not losing time switching tasks. Even small bits of time (and energy) are lost when your mind and body have to do what I call “switch gears.” The less done of that when completing a big project, the faster, and better the result.

I like taking on big projects. I'm not intimidated or overwhelmed because I have spent enough years learning how to break down the projects into smaller, more manageable pieces. But the recent realization of the positive impact that doing assembly line work can bring to my overall efficiency has brought a new level of intention to my organizing strategy.

This new way of approaching task work has provided such a positive feedback loop that now I intentionally frame my organizational work in as much of an assembly line manner as I can. So, if I need to shred a bunch of papers, I remove ALL staples and once, and then shred. If I have to clean up the kitchen, I first gather up all the dirty dishes to the sink (but don’t wash them yet), then I gather up any trash or recycles laying about, then collect any mail or paperwork that needs to go to the office. Before I know it all my surfaces are cleared. A lot faster than if I had randomly bounced from one item to the next.

For me, organizing is fun. It relaxes me. I enjoy it. But that is not to say that every item on my to-do list is fun and relaxing. Sometimes a dreaded chore just has to get done. In this way I can relate to people for whom organizing/cleaning/doing chores, etc, is something to be avoided as much as possible.

And that is where I think that the B-side of Mr. Ford's great automobile invention gets lost in the archives of history, and therefore is very under-appreciated. Applying some assembly line thinking to organized living will yield some worthwhile results to the phrase: work smarter, not harder.

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