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How Fast Can You Get It Done?

Summary

Active Time
20-30 minutes
Total Project Time
Up to 1 day
Key Concepts
Production engineering
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
 A pile of dirty laundry in a basket

Introduction

Do you hate doing the dishes, folding laundry, or cleaning up your room? Do you wish you could figure out a way to get these tasks done faster? Figure out how as you take on the role of a production engineer in this fun activity!

This activity is not recommended for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.

Materials

  • The materials required for this activity will depend on the task you pick. See the Procedure section.
  • You can do this activity alone or with a group of people.
  • Use a clock or stopwatch to measure how long it takes you to complete a task.

Instructions

  1. Pick a task around your house that is somewhat complex and requires a while to complete. Good examples include cooking a meal, doing the dishes, folding and putting away laundry, cleaning your room, or putting away toys. Avoid simple/quick tasks like sharpening a pencil or getting a glass of water. You can pick a task that you normally do alone, or that you do with your family. Depending on how often you do the task, you will need to measure how long it takes you over the course of several days or weeks.
    • Note: If you are a teacher, you can do this activity in a classroom instead. Pick an activity that involves the entire class. For example: distributing printed worksheets to the entire class, cleaning up after a craft or maker activity, or getting in line at the door to go to recess.
  2. The next time you do the activity, use a stopwatch to time how long it takes when going about it as you normally would. For example:
    • For doing the dishes, start the stopwatch when everyone is done eating, and stop the stopwatch when all the dishes have either been loaded into the dishwasher (if using a dishwasher, do not include the time it takes the dishwasher to run) or into a drying rack/dried by hand and put away.
    • For folding and putting away laundry, start the stopwatch when you take the laundry out of the dryer or off the clothes line, and stop it when all the laundry is put away (do not include the time it takes to wash/dry the clothes beforehand).
  3. Measure the time it takes you to complete the task normally at least two more times, and record all the values. This will help give you a baseline measurement, since there will be some variation in the time it takes to complete the task. For example, unless you cook the exact same meal every day, different meals will produce different amounts of dirty dishes.
  4. Now, start thinking about different ways you could possibly improve how the task is done, in order to finish it more quickly. Your goal is to optimize the task (and the roles of all the people involved, if working as a group) to finish it as quickly and efficiently as possible (no cheating—for example, do not sprint around your kitchen so you can be "faster"). For example:
    • When doing the dishes, is it faster to have each person carry their own plate to the sink, wash it, and dry it themselves? Or is it faster to divide tasks? For example, one person clears the table, one person washes, and one person dries?
    • When doing laundry, is it faster to fold and put away each item one at a time, without sorting first? Is it faster to sort the laundry first, then fold each item and put it away? What about sorting everything first, folding it all at once, then putting it all away?
  5. The next time you do the task, try implementing your improvements. Measure whether it takes more or less time than it did before.
    Think about:
    Did your idea work? If not, can you figure out why? Are there other ways you could accomplish the task more efficiently?
  6. Continue trying to make improvements to how you accomplish the task. How much faster can you get it done than you did originally? The faster you get your chores done, the more time you have to go play!

What Happened?

You might have found that the way you normally do a task was not the most efficient. By implementing some improvements, you can get the task done faster, leaving more time in your day for fun! However, there is a chance you found it difficult to get the task done any faster, and this is okay! You or your family might have already optimized the process through years of practice. For example, maybe you already have a routine for getting the dishes done quickly. You and your family acted like engineers without even knowing it! Read the Digging Deeper section to learn more about how this activity is related to engineering.

Digging Deeper

What does all this have to do with engineering? Production engineers are engineers who optimize industrial and commercial processes, like assembly lines and manufacturing in a factory. Where should the equipment be placed? What should the individual workers do? How many of each type of worker should be hired? Optimizing the process helps get work done faster and saves the company money. So even though you might not have realized it, in this activity you were practicing production engineering!

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For Further Exploration

  • Try this activity with other tasks around your house. Can you optimize an entire day's worth of chores?
  • Teachers, you can modify this activity to work with a craft or maker activity. For example, what is the fastest way for a group of students to mass-produce paper airplanes?

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