Alexei Gastev: How to Work

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“How to Work. The ABCs of Work. Central Institute of Labor.”

Since circumstances were such I had to work all day yesterday instead of whooping it up in the streets with my fellow workers, I thought I would share with you the secret of my success as a dematerialized, anonymous laborer of the invisible front. // TRR

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Alexei Gastev
How to Work

Whether we are working at a desk in an office, filing something with a file in a metalwork shop or, finally, ploughing a piece of land, we must impart discipline to our labour and gradually make it a habit.

These are the first basic rules for all work.
  1. Before taking on a job, you must think it all the way through. You must think it over in such a way that a model of the finished job and the whole order of work methods has taken final shape in your head. If you cannot think everything through, think over the major stages, and think through the first stages of the work thoroughly.
  2. Do not undertake a job until all the tools and equipment you need for the job have been readied.
  3. There should be nothing superfluous at your work station (machine, workbench, table, floor, piece of land) that would cause you to bang into it, fuss about, and stop to look for the right thing among things you do not need.
  4. All tools and equipment must be laid out in a definite order established once and for all so everything can be found without thinking.
  5. You should never undertake a job abruptly and immediately. Do not take off working, but ease into the job little by little. The head and body will then diverge and start functioning. If you jump into the work, you will soon be your own undoing and botch the job. After an abrupt initial burst of energy, the worker soon fades, experiencing fatigue and spoiling the job.
  6. You must sometimes put your shoulder to the wheel, either to cope with something out of the ordinary or take on something in common, as a team. In such cases, you should not immediately go all out, but first get yourself settled. You must tune the whole mind and body, recharge yourself. Next, you must test yourself a bit, feel out the strength required, and only then put your shoulder to the wheel.
  7. You should work as smoothly as possible, avoiding ebbs and flows. Working impulsively and fitfully spoils both the individual and the job.
  8. Your body’s posture while working must be such that you feel comfortable working while at the same time strength is not expended on the utterly unnecessary tasking of keeping the body on its feet. If possible, you should work sitting down. If you cannot sit, keep your legs apart. To keep a leg you have put forward or shifted to the side in place, you must arrange to secure it.
  9. You must rest while working. During hard work, you need to relax more often and, if possible, sit down. Rest breaks are less frequent during easy work, but evenly spaced.
  10. While working you should not drink tea or eat. Drink in extreme cases only to quench your thirst. Nor should you smoke. It is better to smoke during work breaks rather than when you are working.
  11. If the work hits an impasse, do not get worked up, but take a break, get a grip on yourself, and slowly ease yourself back into the work. You should even deliberately slow down to sustain yourself.
  12. During the job itself, especially when things have reached an impasse, you should interrupt the work, put your work station in order, sweep away the rubbish, and take up the work again little by little albeit smoothly.
  13. When working, you should not break away from the work for other matters, except for those neccessary to the job itself.
  14. There is a very bad habit of showing work right after it has been successfully performed. In this case, you should definitely bite the bullet, as they say, get used to your success, and dampen your satisfaction by internalizing it. Otherwise, if you fail in the future, your will shall be poisoned and the work will disgust you.
  15. In the case of complete failure, you must regard the matter lightheartedly and not be upset, start again, as if for the first time, and behave as indicated in Rule No. 11.
  16. After finishing the job, you must clean everything up, including the work, your tools, and your work station. Put everything in a certain place so that when you start work again you can find everything and the work itself does not become unpleasant.

Source: Alexei Gastev, How to Work (1920). Translated by the Russian Reader. Illustration courtesy of ruslit.traumlibrary.net

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