Is it good to be efficient? Or is it bad because it harms our humanness? To properly answer that question, we need a proper understanding of efficiency. The assumption underlying efficiency is a limited resource. Usually, that resource is time, but it can also be money, oil, space, workers, and life. To be efficient with time means accomplishing as much as we can in a given amount of time. To use money efficiently is to stretch the dollar. The efficient use of oil translates to fuel efficient vehicles. The need to house more and more people in Vancouver leads to smaller dwellings—space efficiency. To run a college with limited staff and faculty is to achieve efficiency in terms of human resources. But what does it mean for us to live efficiently? And is there a place for it?

The examples above show that we are, or aim to be, efficient in many areas of life. But to be efficient in all areas of life all the time is not possible, because to be efficient with one resource may, and often, conflicts with efficiency in another resource. To be efficient with time, it is best to drive to class. But that requires the purchase of a car which may not be best way to stretch your student loan. Not to mention, the inefficient use of oil compared to riding the bus or biking. Another example: using the dish washer may be time efficient but not water efficient.

Allow me to be word efficient and get to the point. Efficiency is for a purpose and not an end in itself. Usually there is a trade-off. Efficiency with one resource may require inefficiency with another. We need to consider all of life and all the resources available to us individually and communally. Efficiency is not a virtue, except in the working world and the technological culture. As human beings, we have limited resources of energy for all of life, which encompasses work and rest, chores and play. Working efficiently, accomplishing many tasks in a given amount of time, uses up energy required for other life activities.

Even so, there is a place for efficiency at work, in order that we can be inefficient with time in play, rest, and prayer. The monastery, surprisingly, is a very efficient workplace. In his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton, who had left the world for the monastery, recounts his horror at having to wake up at three in the morning and run around all day doing chores. All that work efficiency was in order that the monks could spend hours in prayer. So the answer to the question of efficiency is: yes, but to what end?