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Alexei Gastev. On how to work.

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One of the earliest attempts to formulate the rules
on how to work with your hands efficiently.

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Alexei Gastev. On how to work.
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There are few attempts to rationalize the manual work; and successful attempts are almost non-existent. The immediate reason is that those who are good with their hands don’t feel like writing or reading about it.
More importantly, though, is that craftsmanship is not transferred by verbal communication. Rather, it is the process of imitation, a man to man succession of skill - the great mystery known as apprenticeship.

Alexei Gastev was a professional revolutionary who, to support himself, worked as a metal worker in the leading companies throughout Europe. Unlike his contemporaries, Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford, he looked at the manual labour through the eyes of the worker. The following is an extract from his book “How to work”, published in Soviet Union in 1921.

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Whether you are at the office desk, filing a metal in a locksmith's shop or ploughing the land - you must develop the right work attitude and gradually make it a habit.

Here are the basic rules for any work:


Rule #1
Prior to undertaking work, you should think it through so that the finished product and the order of work procedures is formed in your mind. Where this is not possible, you should consider the main milestones and think through the initial stages in detail.
Rule #2
You should not start work until all the tools and all the devices are ready.
Rule #3
At the workplace (machinery, workbench, table, floor, ground) there should be nothing that is not needed, so that you do not flounder around, fuss or search for the necessary among the unnecessary.
Rule #4
All tools and devices should be laid out in a specific order – preferably, established once and for all – so that you can find all you need without thinking.
Rule #5
You should never begin a task hastily or rush to start working. Rather, you should start slowly. In a while the mind and body will warm up and adjust to the task; but if you rush, you will wear yourself out, so to speak, and ruin the work. After a steep initial impulse, the worker soon weakens; he then will feel fatigue and spoil the work.
Rule #6
In the course of work, it is sometimes necessary to push harder: either to do something out of the ordinary or do something together, collectively. In such cases you should not rush, but first adjust, tune the body and mind and, as it were, charge yourself. Then you must try a little, feel the required strength and only then push.
Rule #7
You should work as steadily as possible so that there are no peaks or troughs. Agitated work spoils both the man and the work.
Rule #8
You must take breaks. Hard work requires frequent breaks, if possible, sitting down. For lighter tasks, breaks should be rare but regular.
Rule #9
Food or tea should not be consumed while working. You should only drink to quench thirst. You should not smoke either, except during breaks.
Rule #10
If the task is not going to plan, you should not become stressed. It is better to take a break, collect your thoughts and begin again calmly, deliberately taking things slowly to control yourself.
Rule #11
When things are not going well, you should stop, put the workplace in order, carefully lay down the tools and materials, sweep away the rubbish and start again - steadily, little by little.
Rule #12
If the task is not going to plan, you should not become stressed. It is better to take a break, collect your thoughts and begin again calmly, deliberately taking things slowly to control yourself.
Rule #13
While working, you should not get distracted by other matters, except for those pertaining to the task itself.
Rule #14
There exists a very bad habit – to show off successful work immediately upon completion. It is important to “hold it”, so to speak, and get used to success. You should constrain your delight, internalize it. Otherwise, in the event of failure, your will can get “poisoned” and the work will become emotionally unbearable.
Rule #15
In case of complete failure, you should take it easy and not get upset. Start anew and act per rule number one.
Rule #16
At the end of the task, everything must be tidied up: the work and the tools and the workplace. Everything should be put in its place, so that when you start again you can easily find everything and so that the work itself is not off-putting.