Boimler performs a violin solo while simultaneously dancing to minimal fanfare. Mariner and Tendi take over the stage and perform a loud rock piece that disrupts talks with a Klingon vessel. Freeman sends Shaxs to shut down the music but he takes it out on Boimler's violin instead.
Stardate 57501.4 Captain Freeman's peace talks are moved to Vulcan and the Cerritos is sent elsewhere on a less important mission.
Captain Freeman thinks the Cerritos is seen as a joke and demands they make the ship stand out somehow.
The Lower Decks team completes a task and takes a margarita break. Mariner and Rutherford explain to Tendi about "buffer time" and Boimler admits he'd rather they work all the time but he bows to the Lower Decks tradition.
When Freeman starts cracking down on crew relaxing, she hears the term "buffer time" and then interrogates Boimler on it in the lift.
Freeman issues a new work protocol wherein tasks are logged and timed, and quotas of efficiency must be met.
A week later, the crew is run ragged by the new work protocol and errors are being made in order to meet the timed deadlines. Everyone is frantic except for Boimler who is thriving under the new regime.
Mariner joins Ransom's away mission crew to the Galrakians. The two have words before disembarkation. The species they are meeting base their social structure on crystals. Due to the work protocol, the wrong case was loaded for the away mission and, instead of an honor crystal, Ransom and Ensign Vendome present a wooden fertility totem meant for a different planet, greatly offending their hosts.
Vendome is wounded and Mariner springs into action. The Galrakians call in reinforcements and the away team is taken prisoner.
Crew on the Cerritos are getting more exhausted and careless. The Galrakians launch an attack and board the ship. Freeman issues orders for crew to repel intruders but are still expected to complete their tasks on time.
Ransom and Freeman argue on how to escape from the Galrakians. Ransom's speech fails as the Galrakian leader orders a trial by combat. Ransom and Freeman fight over the right to fight which confuses the Galrakians.
Boimler reports to the bridge where Freeman is attempting to run all the stations on her own because the crew has collapsed from exhaustion. Boimler starts to realize what's going wrong with the crew.
Mariner tries to convince Ransom to let her fight the Galrakian champion. Instead, he stabs her in the foot so she can't. He enters the arena and takes on the champion with his bare hands.
On the ship, the Galrakians are busy covering the ship in graffiti. Boimler explains to Freeman that everyone on the crew except him needs her to loosen up the protocols if she wants to save the ship. She comes around and the crew rallies for a victory.
Mariner can't help but admire Ransom's ability in the arena. He wins and the away team is saved.
While the ship is being cleaned up, Shaxs leads a team back to the planet and presents the correct crystal to the Galrakians. Mariner's foot is bandaged up and Ransom checks in with her to see if she'll be reporting his breach of protocol. She says she won't so he has her thrown in the brig for ignoring his orders earlier on the mission. She swears vengeance and he admits her reaction was titillating.
Freeman calls Boimler in and tells him that she has created a shipwide mandate named after him which will encourage everyone to cut corners as they see fit.
In the far future, the Boimler Effect is taught to every child of the Federation and Boimler's reputation as the laziest, most corner-cutting officer in Starfleet history.