The Big One: Effectiveness vs Efficiency

When I started Remotely Connected, I decided that we would have monthly themes, and this first month has been all around one of my favourite topics: Effectiveness. So to round off the month, I wanted to leave you with some thoughts on how we hurt our own chances of being truly Effective by confusing it with Efficiency.

I love this quote from celebrated Peter Drucker (known as the ‘Father of Management Thinking’) that I found when researching this piece: “Efficiency is doing things Right, and Effectiveness is doing the Right thing”.

You might reasonably wonder: what does that actually mean?

I think of Efficiency as taking the approach with least friction, getting something done and checked off the list quickly. It’s being organised, and working down your to-do list top to bottom. It’s being a good student, a good employee. But Effectiveness is looking at your life & objectives and identifying the ways you are actually going to get RESULTS. It means having the difficult conversation, and working on one big opportunity. It means setting conscious goals and asking yourself: is this actually getting me closer to where I want to go? Effectiveness is often a characteristic we associate with disruptors.

So many of us are misdirecting our energy, pouring our efforts into being ‘good’ and doing things ‘right’, and not stopping to think how we could best use our energy to get results.

I think it’s because as a society we have become obsessed with efficiency & productivity, and it’s become a commodity. Just think of all the complicated diaries and convoluted note-taking methods that are on the market (I’m looking at you, Bullet Journal), designed to increase our productivity. People spend hours managing their diaries, colour coding different classes & drawing pretty fonts in their journals. They try to squeeze more and more into one day, and still keep the diary looking absolutely perfect. And yet, the actual objective of a diary is to reduce stress and help you keep track of your goals & commitments, not to create a chore that actually takes away from the time you could spend on doing valuable tasks. In this example (and there are many others), this drive for efficiency & productivity actually moves us further away from the goal, not towards it.

I consider this obsession with efficiency and productivity as closely intertwined with perfectionism & a need for control (and it’s little wonder we’re searching for this in our crazy world), and effectiveness as a close relation to mindful living.

Think about this example: you might have had a really busy week at work, and you’re EXHAUSTED. The most effective thing for your overall goal (living your life fully & consciously) would be to take stock of how you feel when you wake up on Saturday, and adjust your plans; cancel a spin class that you won’t work hard in (because you’re exhausted, remember) and instead do a long yin yoga session at home. Maybe put on a podcast & cook a nutritious meal, alone. In other words, recharge, and feel rested on Monday morning. But if your focus is on having a productive day, you might: clean out your room, drive your clothes to a charity shop, meet a friend for brunch & rush off to see another friend for a coffee, return some purchases on Oxford Street, do a spin class, and then come home and feel like you’re not ready for the working week to start again.

Full disclosure: I am a reformed efficiency & productivity obsessive. I always focussed on getting the best results (and the most results) in the short term, but not on where I wanted to end up in the long term. In other terms: quality over quantity.

So, what am I leaving you with; do I have any tips to free yourself of this obsession with being efficient?

To be truly effective requires you to engage with your own goals, to stop and think: where do I want to get to in life, and how do I want to get there?

Personally I focus on quite broad medium term (weekly or monthly) goals, rather than very specific daily or 5-yearly goals.

Having goals that are too short term can be restrictive and punitive; you will have days where things do not go to plan, and you won’t cross everything off your list. You can set yourself up to fail. But having goals too far down the line doesn’t give you flexibility for the way your life will change; you might have set a goal five years ago that isn’t relevant now, and that you’re hanging onto just for the sake of meeting a goal.

On the flip side, a broad monthly goal allows you flexibility to behave in a way that fits on a daily basis. Maybe you want to feel stronger by the end of the month. This way you aren’t tying yourself to constraints on a daily basis (calorie counting for instance), and beating yourself up for not meeting them.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Leadership expert John C Maxwell: “Efficiency is the foundation for survival. Effectiveness is the foundation for success.”

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