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Are You Efficient or Effective?

Which would you rather be—efficient or effective? Does it matter? Is one better than the other or are they the same?

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One of the biggest issues that faces my clients is time management. But the thing is, time management is kind of an umbrella term. There are other things to look at, such as focus and attention, planning, and prioritization. These all play a role in how well you can manage your time. So first, we need to think about what our ultimate goal is. People say things like, “I need to be more efficient so I can to AAAALLLL the things.” But what you really need to look at is whether you're doing the right things.

Are You Efficient or effective?
Are you efficient or effective?

What is Effectiveness?

Effectiveness and efficiency are very similar, and people often mistake one for the other or use them interchangeably. However, these terms are anything but similar – in fact, they each carry completely different meanings.

It's all about results

Effectiveness is all about doing the right things; it is result oriented. It’s when your objectives are in line with your main goals and indirectly your purpose.

It’s about finding ways to improve outcomes. For example, if your goal is to have a less hectic morning, you should engage in activities that will move you closer to that goal. Sounds obvious, right?

However, we often get sidetracked on other things that we convince ourselves to work toward that goal when really, they’re irrelevant tasks. Homing in on things that will help you reach your goal is where you should put your focus.

Back to our example: What are things that will make your mornings less hectic? Getting up earlier so you have more time? Maybe. Making lunches the night before? Probably. Teaching the kids to make their own breakfasts? Maybe (definitely once they can do it without making a mess or being late). Scrolling through Pinterest for ideas for your morning? Not so much.

So every time you’re faced with a task, you ask yourself, “Is this getting me closer to my goal?” That makes you effective. But you have to be brutally honest. Can I convince myself that scrolling Pinterest for ideas for organizing my morning is helpful? Yep. Am I actually doing anything though? Nope.

How is Efficiency different than effectiveness?

Efficiency, on the other hand, is more about doing things right; this aspect is task oriented. It is using better ways to get something done well in the shortest amount of time possible while utilizing the least amount of resources and/or costs. For example, I might look at the errands I have to run in any particular week. Instead of tackling one task a day, I might group them so I can accomplish all of them in a shorter period of time and waste less gas doing so.

The myth of multitasking

Unfortunately, many people equate being efficient with being able to multitask. That’s definitely not the case. Most of the time, attempting to multitask is a bad idea. Ultimately, we lie to ourselves about what multi-tasking is.

Efficiency is about finding the best way to do the things you need to do. It requires planning and prioritization, which is hard for a lot of you. This is why you feel so inefficient in getting your tasks done. Often this inefficiency results in what some call the ADHD tax. Because you can’t plan ahead or prioritize things, it costs you time or money. You can get a handle on this, but it takes time and practice to build up your systems to prevent it from happening. Many people accept that it’s a cost for them and they’re okay with it to a certain degree.

How Efficiency and Effectiveness Work Together

When talking about efficiency and effectiveness, you have to realize that either one can exist without the other; one can be effective but not efficient, and vice versa. It is entirely possible for one to be effective in achieving their goals while being inefficient in the way they do it. It is also entirely possible to be neither one at all. Many neurodivergent people feel this way often.

In fact, there are four possibilities:

  1. Effective and Efficient
  2. Effective and Inefficient
  3. Ineffective and Efficient
  4. Ineffective and Inefficient

It should be noted, however, that optimal productivity is a combination of both efficiency and effectiveness (Number 1) – the Holy Grail for every person. That’s what we all strive for. Very few of us, though, are there all the time. And that’s okay.

It is not possible for a person to reach peak productivity levels if they are lacking in either efficiency or effectiveness (Numbers 2, 3, and 4). If anything, they’re setting themselves up for either mediocrity or failure.

Because being effective and being efficient require you to be able to plan and prioritize, you struggle with productivity. As much as I’d like to give you a magic solution, there isn’t one. You need to develop those skills through practice. As you get better at planning and prioritizing, your time management will get better and you’ll be more efficient and more effective.

Effectiveness > Efficiency

In the meantime, if you have to put your effort into one, try to be more effective. In terms of order of importance, effectiveness should be prioritized over efficiency. This doesn’t mean that you should disregard the importance of efficiency. Ultimately, we need a balanced combination of both.

Effectiveness involves the big picture. Putting effectiveness first just means that you should focus on doing the right things in order to improve your chances of getting a good outcome. Results matter.

As a teacher, I often say that the process is sometimes more important than the outcome because we learn through our mistakes. But realistically, out in the world, results are more important than the process. Your boss usually doesn’t care how you get your job done, as long as it is done and done right.

Once you get yourself on track and can perform to meet expectations, you can then look at how you can improve the process. There’s no point in being efficient when the tasks you complete do not contribute to your purpose and goals.

For example, you might be great at organizing a bunch of files, but if your job is to schedule interviews for a job opening, your efficiency means nothing. Your boss won’t see that efficiency—he’ll only see that you didn’t do the task you were supposed to.

are you effective or efficient? - stopwatches and clock gears

Efficiency on its own is meaningless.

Which would you prefer: to be efficient or effective?

The problem with most people is that they tend to gravitate toward efficiency, rather than effectiveness. It is perfectly understandable—being efficient can be a whole lot easier than being effective. At least it looks that way because we’re getting things done.

Personally, I am guilty of this, especially when I am procrastinating. Instead of doing the thing I’m supposed to do, like work on taxes (which I hate), I will find the best way to prep meals for the week. Or I’ll run ten errands in the amount of time most people might only be able to get five done. I feel good because I was efficient and I accomplished stuff. However, I didn’t accomplish what I needed to. I didn’t reach my goal.

Being efficient involves improvements on a smaller, more manageable scale; effectiveness, however, requires a whole lot of brainstorming about one’s goals, values, and different approaches on a larger scale. And that is intimidating.

It’s hard to think about what you have to do in order to really reach your goals. It’s even harder when you consider that you have to question every task at hand: “Is this helping me reach my goal or result?”

Not only that, but people who put efficiency before effectiveness have this tendency of looking for better and perfect ways of doing things, and head nowhere instead, which ironically, leads to ineffectiveness.

Perfectionism is a real detriment to many neurodivergent people. If it can’t be perfect, they don’t want to do it at all or they keep at it until it is perfect.

But there’s no such thing as real perfection. And even though you might logically know that, the perfectionism is still there, nagging at you.

Increasing Effectiveness

So how does one increase their effectiveness?

Put some time aside to evaluate these things :

Clarify the What– focus on the results you want to achieve and define the picture of success.

Clarify and pursue key strategies that will give you the highest possibility for success.

Now that you’ve established your plan of action, you can focus on how to increase your efficiency. This would mean concentrating on the How – implementation of your strategies in the most efficient way possible, and improving how you do things as you go along. This will start with building routines you can live with and turn into habits.

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