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How to be more Productive: Being Efficient vs Effective

There’s a distinction between being efficient and being effective. Efficiency refers to how well you maximize existing resources to minimize wastage, whereas effectiveness refers to how successful the venture is. Both are similar, but not synonymous.

For example, watching educational YouTube videos on a myriad of topics is efficient. But reading a book and digesting its contents might be more effective. For businesses, saving money is efficient in terms of eliminating wastage. But it’s not effective in the long run compared to investing in your employees to better equip them. These are the few that I can think of, and there are many more.

This relationship between efficiency and effectiveness belong to a category of concepts that are “strongly associated, but not synonymous”. They appear to be same, but they are quite different. This got me thinking: Why not we turn it into a chart?

The Chart of Efficiency vs Effectiveness

The y-axis shows the efficiency and the x-axis shows the effectiveness. The chart is split into 4 quadrans with each quadrants showing the relationship between efficiency and effectiveness.
The Efficiency vs Effectiveness Chart.

There are 4 Quadrants in total with each quadrant representing a specific combination of effectiveness and efficiency. Traditionally speaking, this has been utilized more from a business-oriented perspective to determine what to pursue or to avoid.

However, I would like to take my own personal spin and apply a productivity framework on top of it.

One of the biggest lesson I’ve learnt recently about productivity recently in the past 2 years is this:

The goal of productivity is not to maximize efficiency, but to maximize effectiveness.

Some guy on the internet

I found this principle on a book called “What’s Best Next“, by Matt Perman. I do not lie to you when I say that this book radically changed my perspective on productivity.

Before this, I approached productivity in terms of getting things done quickly. I measured my success by figuring out how much I accomplish on my to-do list. Now, instead of trying to do more, I’m trying to do less (Refer here to my ideas in how I approach work). I realized that it is not about being efficient, it’s about being more effective. Hence, the chart.

This chart is intended to help you to navigate your life by determining how effective or efficient a given activity for a particular domain.

Applying the Chart

For example, let’s talk about the domain of play and relaxation. I first ask: “What are the activities that I do currently, and where do they fit in this chart?”. I then list out the five items, and I do my best to position them on the chart based on their efficiency and effectiveness rating.

Rating my play and relaxation activities on the Efficiency vs Effectiveness Chart.

From the chart, the most effective activity in the play and relaxation domain is to chill with friends, albeit not the most efficient. Whereas, watching YouTube is the most efficient but the least effective in terms of the play and relaxation domain.

Here’s another one for my work and career.

As you can see, my current job is effective in terms of my long-term strategy for my work and career. With blogging being the least efficient overall (you cannot fathom the time investment). I do academic coaching and tuition which is much more efficient, but they don’t serve my long-term career goals.

The best part about this chart is that the possibilities are endless. Nonetheless, I welcome you to try this activity for yourself. Here’s an image of the diagram. First think of a domain in your life, think about the things you do and then try to place it within the diagram.

The Efficiency vs Effectiveness Chart

Practical Applications

Now, this chart is very insightful and there can be practical applications. Here are a few that came to my mind:

  1. Don’t do things that are low in efficiency and effectiveness.
  2. Things that are high on effectiveness tend to be low on efficiency. Make it more efficient.
  3. Things that are high on efficiency tend to be low on effectiveness. Limit it.
  4. Activities that are high in efficiency and effectiveness are rare.

If you have any other practical applications, don’t hesitate to drop it down in the comments!

4 thoughts on “How to be more Productive: Being Efficient vs Effective

  1. Sian Lun

    Might be good to have a follow up post on how one should perceive or measure effectiveness. I will agree efficiency is not everything when you can be effective. Lately I am reading/watching more about people overrated productivity. Time to rethink, unlearn and relearn.

    1. joelloh97 Post author

      Hey Dr Lau! Good to hear from you, I think in regards to effectiveness. I think you pointed out it is a bit vague in that.

      Nonetheless, I think an operating definition of Effectiveness is how well does it intend to achieve your intended goal/purpose.

  2. Pingback: Cost of Efficiency: Why sometimes we need to stop optimizing - Joel's Blog

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