Efficiency vs Effectiveness

This discussion will start somewhat philosophical. If you’re only here for the practical implications, you may skip this lesson. If you’re up for the ride, read ahead. Drucker says:

            Effectiveness is doing the right things; efficiency is doing things right;

Or how I like to put it: The former helps you to design your game while the latter helps you to play it.

Imagine you are standing in the middle of a circle. Then, effectivity is your direction, while efficiency is your speed. Think of a chemistry student, who is getting super-efficient by learning at an extraordinary pace and acing all exams. He optimizes everything around learning and dominates the domain of studying. Quickly, yet, he discovers that even though he is quite talented in chemistry, he followed his parents’ dreams and rather wants to study philosophy. This is not an invented scenario. We see this happening all the time. Afterwards, people wish they would have invested a bit more time into soul searching before they got hyper-efficient in one specific domain they don’t even like. People get very efficient, but don’t actually know where this is getting them to and unlearn seeing the big picture because they’re focusing on the small parts only. Hence, efficiency is getting us to the goal faster, but there is a caveat: The goal is likely going to change the faster we get to it. This happens especially if we see life as something very serious with one goal being better than the other.

First, we need to define where we go, before we can define how we want to go there. While the former is about effectiveness, the latter is about efficiency. Hence, there is an inherent, natural subsequence that goes along with those two words. And once we’ve understood the inherent subsequence of that effectivity-efficiency construct we need to understand the words themselves. While efficiency is solving an optimization problem, effectiveness cannot do that. It is trainable and improvable on the surface, but comes from the heart in its core.

Understanding Effectivity

Think about a call with your mother, father, wife, husband, daughter, or son. How much time should you allocate to this? How can you finish this call as quickly as possible while getting the maximum benefit out of it? Obviously, you cannot make this call efficient – and hopefully you don’t want to as well. There are tasks where efficiency plays absolutely no role and the only single goal is to do the right thing.

Effectivity means prioritizing – it looks at tasks and says: ‘Which of you are actually ‘right’?’ While most of us believe prioritizing is highly rational, it is not in its core. This does not mean that we cannot train prioritizing or that prioritizing cannot be a rational task. It is on the surface, but if you break goals down until you arrive at their very core – if you ask the ‘why’-question a hundred times – you will arrive at an emotional foundation. The greatest mathematicians derive their most fascinating works from nothing but pure and genuine curiosity, not thinking about the practical implications at all. Many business owners, presidents or sports champions derive their discipline from an emotional event in their past, gratefulness or love.

Neurology might offer a hint: The ‘emotional‘ side of our brain is called the Amygdala. People who lost this part of their brain in an operation are interesting research subjects. They score as well in IQ-tests as before, but they fail miserably in their jobs. Why? Because they lose the ability to prioritize. They focus on minor tasks and get lost in rabbit holes. It makes sense to conclude that prioritizing is strongly connected to emotions. Behind every task, there is a goal, and behind every goal, there is a motivation – and this motivation is usually emotional. Don’t fear this – accept that effectivity comes from the heart rather than the brain. Get into a state of inner clarity or even ecstasy when setting your goals. This will be much more valuable than relying on definitions of other people you don’t even like. Accept also that effectivity as I defined it is irrational – and that this is not a bad thing. Some people seek religious epiphany, some seek to do good for society or change the world and some want to become a billionaire. Often, those decisions are rationalized in retrospect, but I guarantee that they were not initially. There is abundant research showing that we make decisions before our rational brain could even process them, but then post-rationalise their validity. Essentially, we act from the heart and justify our actions with the brain. Before you ever worry about efficiency, get your big decisions right. There is a saying that there will be around 20 decisions in your life that really matter. If you get those right, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Do not take this lightly. If your rational, efficient actions work against your deep, inner emotions, you will implode eventually. Be true to yourself and honest to your peers. Even though your true motivations may sound egotistic, boring or superficial, accept them if you feel they are genuine.

Understanding Efficiency

Think of cutting down a tree. How long would you sharpen the axe and how long would you actually hit it? If you don’t sharpen the axe, you’d need hours for felling down the tree. Similarly, if you sharpen the the axe for the entire day, you’ll not reach your optimum. It is intuitive that the answer lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes – but where is it actually? This is a typical optimization problem and the more data we get, the easier it is to solve.

After a certain time, it will not make sense sharpening the axe anymore. An easy example would be that after a certain amount of time a single hit will cut the tree. Any additional second of sharpening the axe would add an additional second needed for felling down the tree while it would not add additional speed since cutting the tree down with one hit is already possible.

It actually makes fun to explore those optimization problems in real life – like learning a backflip by exploring different heights, speeds of twisting and ways of moving your arms and body. Yet, learning how to backflip is only about how we play the game but not the game itself. The game is deciding to learn the backflip – and that might come from curiosity, motivation or even fascination. Moreover, imagine you want to start a unicorn or win the nobel-prize. How do you break such a crazy goal down into its subcomponents – and how do you optimize your sleep, flow phases, learning experiences, leadership skills, etc. to achieve it?

Putting effectivity and efficiency into practice

The lesson should be clear: First worry about prioritisation and then worry about optimisation. The classical prioritization framework will look like this:

1.     What is your vision in life?

2.     What is your vision with your current company?

3.     What is your 5 year vision?

4.     What are your 1-year goals?

5.     What are your quartly goals for the next year?

6.     What are your weakly goals?

The best way to study prioritisation is to break your life goal down to weekly goals (a maximum of 5 – one for each day) and reflect on a weekly basis on whether your weekly goals actually were in line with your quarterly goals. Then, reflect quarterly on whether your quarterly goals were in line with your yearly goals. And finally, reflect yearly whether your yearly goals were in line with your 5 year goals, company and life vision. With every single additional day, you will learn new things, broaden your horizon and may want to adjust your yearly goals. Just make sure you’re not getting too inconsistent. If you notice that you’re changing your yearly goals every other week, you should invest a considerable amount of time into finding your life vision.

Next to ruminating about prioritisation every week, you should also worry about efficiency. If you have the feeling that you’re already doing the right things, now is the time to worry about how you’ll do them quicker. You may want to check out our course on productivity tools and the subsequent lessons on how to do this best. 

Action Steps

Schedule a weekly reflection slot for at least two hours every week. In this slot you should reflect about your weekly goals, whether they made sense to you and how you can achieve your goals quicker. I have inserted my weekly checklist below which might give you a good guideline in defining your weekly goals. In the end, do what makes sense for you. If added some notes every time I believed the bullet points are not self-explanatory.

0. Admin – last week [20 mins – 240 mins]

– Review Week for forgotten deadlines / tasks

– Review Finances and Budget

– Backup Drive

– *Clean up all lists*

    – Todoist

    – Asana tasks / GANTT charts

    – Slack messages

    – Emails

    – Clean Up Desktop

– Send all advisors an update (Kairos, EWOR, NewNow)

1. Reflect on Goals and Tasks [20-45 mins]

– Review Top 5 prios

– If I reached all of them, could I have aimed higher?

– If I did not reach all of them, what went wrong?

– Reflect on all tasks I did last week using the three dimensions framework

– Which clear action steps / insights can be derived from this reflection?

2. Schedule next week [30-60 mins]

– Book travel and plan for any admin points next week

– Review Asana tasks / GANTT charts for next week

– Write down top 5 prios + their hierarchy

– Attribute each prio to one day (overlaps possible)

– Schedule tasks for next week in my calendar (to see if my planning is realistic)

– Install buffer and leisure for next week

– Monday: Write down clear goal for every single call – cancel call if no clear goal (note: I do all my calls on Monday)

3. Vision

– Meditation & Autosuggestions

I do this every single week. This helps me set better, more realistic goals and achieve them quicker.