Speak to most business leaders and one of the buzzwords they will mention when talking
about delivering on their business objectives is “efficiency”. Companies, leaders, and managers are continually focused on improving efficiency, yet I would argue that there is something much more important than efficiency, and that is effectiveness.
Efficiency is about doing something as quickly as possible with the minimum wasted effort, effectiveness means producing a desired result, something that has meaning and impact. I would argue that there is no point doing something “quickly” (efficiently) if it is not going to meaningfully move you towards your desired impact (be effective).
For example I could be very efficient at managing all of my emails, instantly replying to and filing any that I receive; but is it an effective use of my time? Could my time be better spent doing something that is going to have a more direct impact in achieving my desired result? I would say that instantly replying to emails is probably not an effective use of my time (though I guess this depends on what my desired results are).
In his book “The 4 Hour Workweek” Tim Ferris refers to the 80/20 rule (or the Pareto Principle) where 20% of our work produces 80% of our results. This is a focus on effectiveness; instead of trying to do the other 80% faster, focus instead on doing the 20% really well as this is going to have the most impact.
This can sometimes be hard because we don’t want to ignore or neglect certain things. By focusing on being effective we will be faced with making the hard decision of dropping things that take up 80% of our time but only help us achieve 20% of our targets. However this is a necessary evil if we really want to be more successful and have more free time.
I’m also not suggesting that we ignore efficiency, being efficient is great too and is very important in situations that are very process driven or repetitive. However our primary focus should be on being effective.
So next time you look at your to-do list or are thinking about how to get the most out of your teams, instead of asking “How can I make this/them more efficient?” ask “how can I make this more effective?” Think about what you are trying to achieve and what is going to have the greatest impact and deliver the greatest results.
Once you focus on being effective you will free up more time to do other things (hopefully for fun stuff, not just more work). So go ahead and give it a go. It won’t be easy to start with but keep trying it little by little and you’ll get there.
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